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With: Josh Hartnett, Shannyn Sossamon, Vinessa Shaw, Paulo Costanzo, Griffin Dunne, Monet Mazur, Mary Gross, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Written by: Robert Perez
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity and language
Running Time: 95
Date: 03/01/2002

40 Days and 40 Nights (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

All Work and No Playboy

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Heathers director Michael Lehmann returns to dark youth territory with 40 Days and 40 Nights, this time taking on the far more taboo topic of sex, and succeeding wildly in the process.

Josh Hartnett stars in his best performance since The Virgin Suicides (maybe he should stick to comedy) as Matt Sullivan, a San Francisco dot-commer who gives up sex for Lent. That's it. But Lehmann and screenwriter Rob Perez milk this idea for everything it's worth.

Not too surprisingly, Matt meets the girl of his dreams, Erica (Shannyn Sossamon), right in the middle of his vow. Since it's a private, spiritual journey for him, he opts not to tell her. (When Matt makes the vow in church, he jumps up, gives a nearby Jesus statue a thumbs-up and yells, "dude!") But everyone finds out before long anyway, as his co-workers set up a world-wide web site allowing people to take bets as to when Matt will break.

Lehmann understands that by avoiding sex, we plunge headlong into it, and 40 Days and 40 Nights has sex wherever we turn. Matt begins hallucinating and seeing naked women everywhere, and even his own brother, a Catholic priest in training (Adam Trese), is beginning to waver in his celibacy. A visit to their parents doesn't help either -- dad begins to discuss his sex life following a hip injury.

Lehmann manages to keep all this stuff at just the right size and duration -- way smaller than anything Porky's or American Pie managed to come up with. (A scene with a Mrs. Butterworth bottle had me in stitches.) In addition, Hartnett sells his performance with a marvelous vacant, pale twitch. He's on the verge of exploding as he nervously builds model planes and trucks.

Not everything works -- when you get into tasteless territory like this you have to show a few of the requisite "boner" shots to get the kids to laugh. But make no mistake. 40 Days and 40 Nights is one of the best youth sex comedies since National Lampoon's Animal House.

Miramax's DVD comes with a commentary track by Lehmann, producer Michael London, and screenwriter Robert Perez, a teaser trailer, optional Spanish subtitles and an optional French language track. It's presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital. In 2011, Lionsgate released a new Blu-Ray with an excellent new high-def picture, and all the same extras.

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