The problem with sex in the movies isn’t that there’s too much of it—it’s that’s there’s too little of it. There may be no shortage of nearly naked bodies, sweaty grunting and creaking bedsprings, but that’s just raw physicality. What’s missing is seductiveness, sensuality and intelligence. What’s missing is the notion that our most important sex organ is the human brain.
In an alternative universe, another version of 40 Days and 40 Nights is filling this ignored need. The germ is here for a truly sexy, funny and wise movie about why falling in love, even only temporarily, is preferable to merely falling in bed. Alas, in this universe we got stuck with the shoddy Hollywood-ready high concept version that cross-breeds male exhaustion with female sexual manipulation. This 40 Days isn’t about a meeting of the minds before a meeting of the bodies—it’s really about revenge. It’s a cheap, phony movie that thinks it’s about moving beyond cheapness and phoniness.
The appeal of Josh Hartnett escapes me, but considering how often he’s been onscreen in the past year (Pearl Harbor, O, Black Hawk Down), I must be in the minority. Certainly his Matt Sullivan has no trouble attracting female attention. Indeed, women just about attack him, even when he’s not really all that interested in sex. See, he was dumped recently by a girlfriend, Nicole, whom he just can’t get over, and he’s just not having any fun with the different girl who finds her way into his bed seemingly every night.
For the longest time, we know absolutely nothing about Nicole—she is not introduced except through his pining—so we can be forgiven for thinking at first that 40 Days may be a slightly radical comedy about a man who discovers he can’t deal with commitment-less sex. Surely, that could be considered humor enough in upending gender stereotypes—ha, ha, the poor guy has to be in love to have fun. And indeed, screenwriter Rob Perez does not disappoint in his obviousness, having Matt decide to refrain from any kind of sexual anything, for 40 days and 40 nights, as a way to purge himself of Nicole. The hilarity gets piled on then—Matt can’t even jerk off, and he’s inflicting this nightmare upon himself.
When we do finally meet Nicole (Vinessa Shaw), we discover that she is a fairly rotten bitch whose chief talent appears to be leading men around by their groins. And then it all starts to make a sad, pathetic kind of sense. Matt isn’t regrouping and regathering his energy. He’s getting his revenge on women who use sex as a weapon—now, he’s the one ostensibly in control. Matt is absolutely surrounded by manipulative women who come to work in his office in leather, thigh-high, 5-inch-spike boots and fishnet stockings. In Matt’s world, every woman dresses for work like a hooker.
Except Erica (Shannyn Sossamon), whom of course he meets about five seconds after he takes his vow of celibacy. She’s nearly as boring as Matt, but he’s trying to build a friendship with her “without all the shit that sex brings to the picture.” That’s complete nonsense, naturally—the sex stuff is still there, only now Matt’s the one who gets to decide when it gets doled out, not the girl. I’d say it doesn’t bode well for the future of his relationship with Erica, but movies like this only find the romance in the first time you hit the sheets, not in whether you’re still together a year later.
People who talk about their sex lives and nothing else are boring, not titillating. Movies about people’s sex lives and nothing else are boring, too. Only teenagers sit around talking about sex to the exclusion of all else. 40 Days and 40 Nights is just as tedious as those kids who think they’re so grownup but haven’t got a clue about anything.