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 and sweaty grunting and creaking bedsprings, but that’s just raw physicality — what’s missing is seductiveness, sensuality, intelligence, a sense of the numinous. What’s missing is the notion that our most important sex organ is the human brain.
In an alternative universe, some other version of 40 Days and 40 Nights is filling this ignored need. The germ — or should I say the sperm? — is here, of a truly sexy, truly funny, truly wise movie about the startling power of the erotic, 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, easy rendition of the Hollywood-ready high concept, the one that hijacks male exhaustion with female sexual manipulation and turns it on its head. This 40 Days thinks it’s about a meeting of the minds before a meeting of the bodies, but it’s about revenge. This 40 Days is a cheap movie, false and phony, that thinks it’s about moving beyond cheapness and phoniness.
The appeal of Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor, O) escapes me, but considering how often he’s been onscreen in the past year, I must be in the minority. Certainly his Matt Sullivan — a San Francisco dot-commer — has no trouble attracting female attention. Indeed, women just about attack him, even when he’s not really all that interested in sex — apparently, “No” isn’t in his vocabulary. 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 simply not a character we are introduced to except through his pining– and 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 loveless sex, or commitment-less sex. Surely, that could be considered humor enough, since everyone “knows” what animals men are — ha, ha, the poor guy: has to be in love to have fun. And yep, 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: this is even worse: the poor guy can’t even jerk off, and he’s inflicting this nightmare upon himself.
When we do finally meet Nicole (Vinessa Shaw: Eyes Wide Shut), we discover that she is a fairly rotten bitch whose chief talent appears to be leading men around by their dicks. And then it all starts to make a sad, pathetic kind of sense: Matt isn’t taking a break from a relationship, 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. The poor guy: he’s absolutely surrounded by manipulators, women who come to work in his office in leather, thigh-high, 5-inch-spike, fuck-me boots and fishnet stockings. Who on Earth dresses for work like that except hookers? All the women, in Matt’s world, that’s who.
Except Erica (Shannyn Sossamon: A Knight’s Tale), whom of course he meets about five seconds after he takes his vow of celibacy. She’s about as boring as Matt is — what do people with no interests, no hobbies, no inner lives talk about? — but he’s trying to build a friendship with her “without all the shit that sex brings to the picture.” That’s complete bullshit, naturally: the sex stuff is still there, but now Matt’s the one in charge of it. He 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 fuck, 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… and 40 Days and 40 Nights is just as tedious as those kids, who think they’re so grownup and yet haven’t got a clue about anything.