In Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jay questions the idea that Miramax would make a film of their lives: “Miramax? I thought they only made classy pictures like The Piano and The Crying Game.” Jason Lee then explains, “Well, after they made She’s All That, everything went to hell.” As if to prove this to the rest of the world, Miramax has made 40 Days and 40 Nights. I was immediately skeptical when the trailers for the film made the stultifying claim, “From the people who brought you Bridget Jones’s Diary” –based on sharing two producers with that film, while offering us a different director, a different writer and a different cast. To say I was justified in my skepticism is an understatement. Working from newcomer Rob Perez’s script, Michael Lehmann (and here you thought his directorial license had been revoked after My Giant) once more demonstrates that his debut feature, Heathers, was nothing more than a fluke. Granted, there’s not a lot anyone could have done with Perez’s high-concept, lowbrow concoction, which translates your average bad teen comedy into a below-average adult romantic comedy. So instead of having hormonally driven teens with no interests in life that involve anything north of the belt buckle, 40 Days and 40 Nights presents us with mid-20s professionals, who not only suffer from this same syndrome, but also are mired in adolescent-speak; They constantly address each other as “dude” (our “hero” even calls Christ by this name!) and discuss matters sexual in locker-room-101 hubba hubbadom. The premise — if you don’t know by now — has Matt (the vapid Josh Hartnett) swearing off all forms of sex (including self-gratification) for the 40 days and nights of Lent. The idea, of course, is that lots of laughs will accrue from the hilarious complications of this knee-slapping concept. In fact, what mostly results is a string of leering, smutty jokes that fall with the sound of a landed fish gasping for air. There are, after all, only so many jokes that can be built around erections, but even this might work if 40 Days and 40 Nights had the courage to be the 93-minute blue joke it really is and wallowed in its sheer tastelessness. Instead, it tries to be both leering and warm, soft and fuzzy at the same time. And that makes for a bad mix. Worse, it takes place in a world where no one has any worries other than sex — a world populated by characters who are not only obsessed with their own sex lives, but everybody else’s. Much of the “humor” is derived from the fact that Matt’s vow is quickly turned into an online betting pool Web site by his friends, which, among other things, suggests Matt is in dire need of some new friends. However, Matt is himself so much a part of this world that he probably deserves the friends he has. Lehmann tries to make the viewer sympathize with the characters, but it’s a lost cause. It doesn’t help matters that the film is about as sexist as possible. Save one, all of the women are viewed simply as sex objects; only Erica (Shannyn Sossamun), the woman Matt falls in love with, emerges with some dignity from the proceedings. By the time the movie gets around to Matt deliriously imagining naked women all around him and launches into a badly-executed dream sequence that scales new heights in infantile mammary madness, you realize that film comedy must be near hitting rock bottom. 40 Days and 40 Nights does borrow from Bridget Jones’s Diary in that it gives us a protagonist who tries to reassess and revamp his life, and it even sets up an almost identical ending (only to botch it by stretching the story out for another few minutes). What is does not borrow is any wit, intelligence, cleverness or real characters that we can care about.
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