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'40 Days and 40 Nights'

Hartnett tries to give it up for '40 Days'

Friday, March 01, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Matt and Erica meet cute: in a San Francisco Laundromat where he provides change for a couple of dollars, a spare magazine and fabric softener.

'40 Days And 40 Nights'

RATING: R for strong sexual content, nudity and language.

STARRING: Josh Hartnett, Shannyn Sossamon

DIRECTOR: Michael Lehmann

WEB SITE: www.miramax.com/



They then court and spar cute, as he attempts to adhere to his Lenten vow of abstinence for "40 Days and 40 Nights," the title of a new romantic comedy starring Josh Hartnett.

If you don't know what a dotcom is, if you can't remember squirreling away coins for washers and dryers, and if you are embarrassed by Viagra-induced dilemmas, well, you may not be the target audience. I felt about 20 years too old, and Hartnett recently told Jay Leno that his mother wouldn't be seeing this one and it's easy to understand why. This is a real R-rated movie, not a PG-13 that tiptoed into the next category.

The actor who donned military uniforms in "Black Hawk Down" and "Pearl Harbor," who manipulated friends in "O," and who grimly grappled with being the nephew of a killer in "Halloween: H2O" is asked to carry this movie -- and he does it winningly. It's his ability to be sexy and yet boyish and sweet that makes him a good match for the material, which often walks on the titillating or outright raunchy side.

Hartnett's character, Matt, is a 20-something Web designer whose heart is broken by a girlfriend named Nicole (Vinessa Shaw). In an effort to simplify his life, rid himself of doomsday hallucinations during one-night stands and get over Nicole, he vows to give up sex and all its forms -- no touching, kissing or dipping into his stash of porn -- for Lent. The tradition of sacrifice is much on Matt's mind, since he frequently visits his brother, a seminarian studying to be a priest.

Matt begins channeling his energy into work and model cars, and all is going well until he meets Erica (Shannyn Sossamon) in the coin-op laundry and finds her bright, funny and attractive. And then his roommate (Paulo Costanzo) learns about his Lenten pledge and blabs it to their colleagues, who launch both a Web site and an office pool on Matt's endurance.

"40 Days" tracks Matt's increasingly desperate drive to succeed, the effect his vow is having on his co-workers -- including the women who try to break him down and the older, married boss (Griffin Dunne) who thinks the ploy is a good one -- as well as Erica and nasty Nicole.

Director Michael Lehmann insists this is "not a sex comedy as much as an abstinence comedy." That doesn't stop him and writer Robert Perez from bookending the movie with sex and including sexual jokes or gags at almost every turn.

Some are funny, as when Matt's roommate questions how he's holding the Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottle, and some are not, as when Matt and his brother dine with their parents who discuss their sex life and the dad's rebuilt hip. By the time Matt is fantasizing that all women are bare-breasted, well, you know this is the kind of movie Joey on "Friends" wishes he could have made.

"40 Days" allows the relationship between Matt and Erica to flourish without so much as a kiss. They shed their shirts, however, and use a white orchid as an extension of their bodies. While it demonstrates what a little imagination can do, the movie cheats on thoughtful discussion about long courtships and getting to know someone before consummating a relationship. But this is no Dr. Phil segment on "Oprah"; it's a movie about San Francisco singles that's set in trendy dotcom offices with exposed brick and a gossipy Bagel Guy who delivers bagels.

A twist near the end of the movie requires a follow-up confrontation that never arrives, and the conclusion seems inevitable in any movie with a meet-cute. And who knew dryer sheets could be so romantic?

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