Rated R - Running Time: 1:34 - Released 3/1/02

Teens love sex, and movie producers love money. It's a match made in Hollywood. From Michael Lehmann, whose first directorial effort was a 1988 USC film project tellingly titled Beaver Gets A Boner (he's also responsible for The Truth About Cats And Dogs and My Giant), comes the appallingly shallow 40 Days And 40 Nights, another entry in the endless continuum of teen comedies where sex is a contest and everyone is a beautiful, sexually desirable cardboard cutout. The freshman effort of writer Rob Perez, it centers around a young man who is so accustomed to casual sex, the idea of taking a 6-week break from orgasms seems unthinkable. I suppose we have Seinfeld to thank for this; the famous "Contest" episode brought the topic of masturbation, both male and female, out in the open in a way it hadn't been before. But the difference, you see, is that Seinfeld had writers.

San Francisco web designer Matt Sullivan (Josh Hartnett) has just suffered a devastating breakup with his longtime girlfriend Nicole (Vinessa Shaw), and he can't stop thinking about her. In fact, every night while he's having sex with some anonymous female, he sees visions of a black hole opening up in his ceiling. Symbolic, eh? So, since it's the beginning of Lent, he comes up with the perfect plan: he'll give up all sex and "sex-like acts" for the required 40-day period, cleanse his system, and forget about Nicole. The trouble is, he meets the perfect girl (Shannyn Sossamon, A Knight's Tale) and falls in love, but can't tell her about his vow lest she think he's some kind of pervert. Meanwhile, his roommate (Paulo Costanzo) and several other friends are so sure he can't do it, they start betting on what day he'll crack.

This movie was about the most excruciating hour and a half I've endured recently. There are a few humorous lines sprinkled here and there, and Costanzo is nicely quirky, but neither of the lead characters are likable enough to make us care about them, and Hartnett and Sossamon are nowhere. The premise of a celibacy contest is so classically contrived, it must be on page one of the "guide to writing teen sex comedies" handbook. Not only is Perez's pretext uninspired and hacky, it perpetuates the stereotypes of men controlled by their libidos and women who exploit that by sexually manipulating them. Both the sexes are thusly maligned.

One thing I can say for this movie is that it contains the sexiest use of flower petals since American Beauty. Other than that, it doesn't have much going for it.

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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