There is a good movie buried deep within "40 Days and 40 Nights". However, that potentially entertaining picture is covered in the final product, which does have a few moments scattered throughout a lot of bad choices, bad comedy and occasional bad casting. The film stars Josh Hartnett as Matt, a San Fransisco website designer who, as the movie opens, has broken up with girlfriend Nicole (Vinessa Shaw). He goes out and sleeps with a lot of different women afterwards, but only finds his conquests empty and meaningless (in one of the film's odd attempts at fantasy sequences, Matt sees the ceiling cracking and then just emptyness while with these girls - well, there's also the sequence where Hartnett's character swims over a sea of breasts; it's just that kind of picture). For Lent, Matt decides to give up sex for the period of the title.
There's a few serious flaws right away. First off, the movie has the two breaking up as the picture opens, which tells the viewer little about what this Nicole actually meant to him. When Nicole returns late in the picture, she's portrayed as far beyond evil, so what did he like about her in the first place? Second, it's difficult to feel sorry or sympathetic for the main character, who has women throwing themselves at him once he decides to give it all up for the 40 Days & Nights of the title. Lastly, Hartnett just isn't funny and has difficulty trying to do any sort of comedy.
Predictable events ensue: at the begining of the 40 days & nights, he meets the girl of his dreams, Erica (Shannyn Sossamon, who has an interesting, attractive look but still hasn't given an entirely interesting performance - although I suppose her work here is considerably better than her effort in "Knight's Tale"). Matt, who works at a dot.com, soon finds out that his co-workers and his roommate (Paulo Costanzo of "Road Trip") have put together a betting pool (given the fact that they're dot-comers, they'll probably need the money since it's doubtful any of these characters would have jobs at this point) that has people (even from other countries, although I'd like to think that they'd have better things to do) wagering whether or not Matt will foul up during the 40 days.
Not only does the film not bring much in the way of originally to the table, it often goes over cliches more than once: instead of the two breaking up at the end of the movie, they have the arguement early on, then get back together and then go through the same thing a few more times - this not only becomes awfully repetitive as the movie goes on, but it starts to seem unrealistic that they'd ever get together. I also started to tire of the fact that, while the film thinks its a romantic comedy, it spends more time at Matt's dot-com office trying for raunchy humor than actually putting the Hartnett and Sossamon characters together and trying to actually develop their relationship.
As for the raunchy comedy in the film, it's uninspired at best and seems forced and unrealistic, too. In one of the film's many scenes that don't portray women very well, one of Matt's female co-workers gets on a copying machine in front of Matt and most of the rest of the office and copies her butt, writes her number on it and hands it to Matt, all because she wants to have him fail and win the office bet.
The film's performances are rather blah, although some of the supporting cast fares better. Hartnett was very good in Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides", but he seems rather dull otherwise, a trend that continues here as he makes an awkward attempt at laughs. Sossamon isn't given much to do, but she's attractive and tries to do quite a bit with minimal material. Maggie Gyllenhaal (sister of Jake, who was in "Donnie Darko") is nice and rather normal (about the only normal character in this picture) as Sossamon's roommate. Griffin Dunne, an excellent director and actor, finds himself in an embarassing role as Matt's boss, while also managing to look embarassed throughout many of his scenes.
The film is technically fine, although Elliot Davis continues to be a cinematographer who often overuses filters (worked in "Forces of Nature" and "Happy Campers", seemed overdone with the blue courtrooms in "I Am Sam" and the yellow and blues seem rather unnecessary here). Still, the San Fransisco locations look perfectly nice and production design (as well as other aspects) was pleasant.
Really, about the best thing I can say about "40 Days and 40 Nights" is that it passes by quickly (although not before a poor and rather strange, unpleasant ending). Hartnett and Sossamon have decent chemistry together, but their relationship is hardly developed, as the film seems more concerned with sex jokes than trying to offer a nicely portrayed romance (see also Amy Heckerling's "Loser", which should have been a nice romantic comedy in New York City, but instead fell into idiot slapstick). "40 Days" is a movie that, while rarely succeeding in the comedy department, is often something even worse: a movie which seems to think it's offering deep, meaningful insights about relationships when it's completely thoughtless on the topic. A disapointment.
VIDEO: "40 Days and 40 Nights" is presented by Miramax in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a perfectly fine transfer; while not entirely perfect, the few flaws present don't offer much distraction. Sharpness and detail are excellent, with no noticable instances of softness.
Flaws were few-and-far-between, but somewhat noticable - a few instances of artifacts and minor edge enhancement appeared, but were not particularly bothersome. The print seemed to be in excellent condition, with hardly a speck or mark. The film's color palette remained a bit on the subdued side, but colors were largely well-rendered, with no smearing or other faults. While not an outstanding presentation, it remains nicely above-average.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a fine example of what's wrong with comedy soundtracks and especially teen films. There's little concern here about anything aside from the songs on the soundtrack, which are presented at a fairly loud level. Dialogue remains clear, too, but these are characters living in a major city...how about making it sound like one?
MENUS: Subtle animation and some minor film stills try and liven up fairly ordinary menus.
EXTRAS: The disc offers a commentary from director Michael Lehmann, producer Michael London and screenwriter Robert Perez. There's a lot of talking through this track, but little actual information as the three offer some basic, low-key chatter about the film, but little insight. Rounding out the supplements are the teaser trailer for the film and some of the usual "Sneak Peek" Miramax/Buena Vista trailers for other titles from the studio (including a trailer for "Gangs of New York" that I'd not previously seen).
Final Thoughts: I didn't entirely hate "40 Days and 40 Nights", but I'm still unsure why I didn't. The film certainly had potential to be something considerably more charming and entertaining, although that's almost completely lost on the filmmakers, who seem largely more interested in bland, largely unfunny sex jokes than showing any real emotion, genuine romance or even crafting enjoyable characters.
Thankfully, the film passes by rather quickly and, while I can pick out a decent supporting performance or two and maybe a couple of okay laughs, I didn't find anything memorable. Miramax's DVD edition offers a fine presentation, but little in the way of interesting supplements.
The Film * 1/2