In most every case where a movie involving the recognizable name or face du jour winds up being a failure, it can be placed at the feet of a bad story or direction, combined with disinterest by the cast. However in a weird twist, 40 Days and 40 Nights actually has a decent idea and technical execution, but is lacking the depth of the cast to carry it. In these events I'd almost champion the film if it were done under different circumstances, but here, not so much.
In this film written by Rob Perez (his first screenplay at the time) and directed by Michael Lehmann (Heathers), Josh Hartnett (30 Days of Night) is Matt, a website designer who is reeling from being dumped by his girlfriend Nicole (Vinessa Shaw, 3:10 to Yuma). He tries to hook up with other girls in the interim, but the thoughts of his ex are still heavy on his mind. Over the objections of his friend Ryan (Paulo Costanzo, Road Trip), Matt decides to give up sex for Lent. And not just the traditional definition of the word either, we're talking every form possible, in an attempt to detox and clear his head going forward. This proves to be problematic when he meets Erica (Shannyn Sossamon, Our Family Wedding). Erica is part of a group designed to monitor the internet for offensive websites that children could be exposed to, which begins to be problematic when a website goes online to track Matt's self-imposed campaign, possibly damaging any chance at a relationship he could have with Erica. The film follows Matt's quest through 40 days and beyond, and how he tries to manage the balance of being close to Erica with being...close to Erica.
Earlier I mentioned that I thought 40 Days and 40 Nights had a decent story idea, and I think that's honestly the case. This pseudo sexual comedy lends itself to being a descendent from the Blake Edwards films of the '70s, and it seems to have shots in it here and there that remind one of it. However, to make this film a little more charming and funny, Hartnett in no way, shape or form should have ever been allowed to even read for it. Aside from looking perpetually like a 40-year old, he simply lacks the range that something like this would need. He's even given some comic moments to try and play with and they're cute, but hardly the laugh-packed moments that I'm presuming Perez and Lehrmann were going for. The supporting cast provides no help either. Say what you will about big studio romantic comedies casting the more respectable actors and actresses in similar movies, but they do their job to help keep the material up when it sags. Costanzo has one expression all the time, and it doesn't serve him well, and Sossamon as the lead opposite Hartnett does nothing distinguishable as a romantic co-star.
I'll note as well that despite the good idea the film has, things really come off the rails in the final act as things get closer and closer to the end of Lent. The story gets muddied, and character motivations seem to really take a mean turn of self-preservation more than their friend, or even doing it in a humorous way. If a viewer wasn't already disinterested by this point, this certainly would have them shutting off their Blu-ray players and using the disc in disgust.
In a way, it seems to be symbolic of the movie itself. Even with any prejudice thrown out the window, it's hard to buy what Hartnett is selling in the movie. Clearly he's no John Ritter, and the lack of finding a comparable only seals the fate of 40 Days and 40 Nights. It's hard to beat the drum for this one when it's done as poorly as it is.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen using the VC-1 codec, 40 Days looks a bit off for a recent production. The source material isn't the most pristine in the world, and the image battles bouts of softness and inconsistent black levels. Are flesh tones and the overall color palette reproduced well? Yes and no, as they look accurate but they hardly look vivid. It didn't look much better than an above average standard definition disc, and it made watching this substandard feature all the more disappointing.
For as strange as the video presentation is, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround is better than expected. When Hartnett's character starts seeing imaginary cracks in the ceiling during post-Nicole trysts, the low-end subwoofer rumble is surprisingly not only for its clarity, but that there is subwoofer activity to begin with. Dialogue sounds solid in the front of the soundstage, and the soundstage is more immersive that anticipated, with directional effects on scenes in the men's room, for instance. All in all, a nice surprise for a drab product.
Aside from a teaser trailer (1:02), the only extra is a commentary track with Lehmann, Perez and producer Michael London. Honestly the track wasn't too bad, as Lehmann possessed a good recollection on the production and got into some discussion on abandoned storylines and even recalled things like the cast audition reads. There is a little bit of joking around and some stretches of watching the film, but even if you're not a fan of the film, it's a decent commentary track to check out on a rainy day.
Under different circumstances, 40 Days and 40 Nights would have been a decent movie, with an adequate screenplay (or at the very least concept). It has moments when it's even told well but those moments are early on and are fleeting at best. Technically the disc is all over the place, and unless you're a Michael Lehmann fan, this disc really isn't worth the time even for the most jaded romcom devotee.