40 Days and 40 Nights

Mar 6, 2002 at 12:00 am

For those who think abstinence is some green narcotic beverage that’s illegal to drink in the United States, a trip to 40 Days and 40 Nights might do you some good. Matt Sullivan (Josh Hartnett) is addicted to sex, but not for the usual reasons. He’s using it as a misguided medicine to block out a bad case of “I still love my ex-girlfriend.”

He continually confesses his plight to his priest-to-be brother, John, who’s everything but compassionate about his brother’s “different girl every night” problem and offers little help, even when Matt finds out from the bagel guy that his ex, Nichol, is engaged. Wallowing in a sea of emotional distress and used condoms, Matt is truly lost until a priest passing by mentions that he gave up his favorite cookies for Lent.

That’s it, dude! Matt decides for the next 40 days no sex, fondling, nibbling, sucking and no, not even the big “M.” A celibate nightmare to some, but a hopeful possibility for Matt to extinguish the power the memory of Nichol wields over him.

This role is sort of a “back to the basics” for actor Josh Hartnett, whose latest films — Black Hawk Down, O and Pearl Harbor — revolve around war and Shakespeare. He possesses that high-school hunkiness that made him so perfect as Trip Fontaine in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, and makes him very believable as the irresistible, easily laid Matt Sullivan of 40 Days. In all situations, flattering or not, Hartnett carries the likable aura of a guy trying to live, figure things out and enjoy himself in the process.

Director Michael Lehmann has proven his quick and hip prowess in the past with Heathers and The Truth About Cats and Dogs, as well as working his wonders on HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” with Gary Shandling. He’s taken a project with subject matter that could easily sink to the depths of potty comedy, but keeps it at eye level with a right-on sense of timing and a decent grasp on clever visual detail that revolves around the “things boys like to do.”

40 Days commingles bits of religion with Internet gambling, surreal sexual psychosis and maybe even a little love, using colloquial dialogue anchored into genuinely funny temptation situations. But watch out, girls: If you’re anything like the women in the film and think, “They’re like animals. Their entire lives revolve around their penises,” you may accidentally end up with some insights into the enigmatic, alien and porn-fueled existence of dudes.

Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].