In Hall Pass, the new film from the Farrelly brothers, two middle-aged guys who have grown a tad restless with married life, are granted a week of freedom by their long-suffering wives. For seven days only they are given carte blanche to bed younger women, party all night and indulge themselves to the point of physical and mental oblivion. But as Rick and Fred, played by Mr Owen Wilson and Mr Jason Sudeikis, soon discover, the reality doesn't quite live up to the promise.
While most men admit to being in regular touch with the kid inside, and many of us succeed in looking younger than we are, the truth is that few - given the choice of a hall pass - would fare any better. There are limits to what we can do or how far we can turn back the clock and nowhere is this more evident than in the arena of sex, which indirectly is where the film starts with Rick being reprimanded by his wife for rubbernecking the buns on a passing babe.
It is said that you are only as old as the woman you feel and I am lucky enough to be in a relationship with someone 10 years younger than myself. Recently, however, a few days spent on a beach in Chile surrounded by a quite stunning array of tanned, nubile 20 - somethings, and I was left feeling at least 10 years older than the evidence of my passport.
Those giveaway moves
Once upon a time, getting 80 per cent naked among taut, youthful bodies would have made me feel virile, sexy and red-blooded. This time, though, I only felt conspicuous, self-conscious and embarrassed (and this wasn't only down to being white enough to have doubled as a reflective tanning aid). I've never been an Adonis but neither could I be mistaken for a beached whale, plastered in wet towels and pushed back to sea by hordes of cheering nature lovers.
What I am, I now realise, is a walking advert for all of my 40 years - and therefore invisible to the legions of South American beach beauties all around me. The experience, I concluded, called for a revision of the old cliché: you are only as old as the way you make women feel. And in my case, that was utter indifference.
old for the party
One night last summer, while sitting outside drinking wine with a friend, the sounds of a party in a house nearby were enough to stir the young bucks within us both. The music was loud and there were clearly a lot of people in attendance so we decided to investigate. Finding the front door to the house open, we went inside only to walk straight into a scene from a very junior version of Skins.
Inching our way along the walls of a hallway and then the living room/dancefloor, all the while effecting a studied nonchalance that we hoped might make us look less like off-duty cops, or concerned fathers who had arrived to collect their daughters, we finally made it to the safety of the kitchen where we enquired as to the whereabouts of a corkscrew for the bottle of red we had brought as a token offering. There, a lad flush with youth and cheap cider, not to mention an extravagant head of hair and jeans worn south of his kneecaps, offered to help, only to smash open the bottle on a worktop and down its entire contents through the jagged remains of the neck. Unsure whether to be annoyed, impressed or gag at his bile-inducing audacity, we decided the sensible option was to leave.
A former colleague of mine, always keen to project a youthful image to the outside world, likes to keep his finger on the pulse (of emerging trends that is, rather than his own) by watching new bands in small, sweaty venues populated by people considerably younger than himself.
Unlike most of us - who accept that our sell-by dates had passed when we started complaining the music was too loud: it was too hot, took too long to get served at the bar or there was nowhere to sit down - his issue was the language barrier. So paranoid did he become about not knowing whether to refer to what he was watching as a concert or a gig, he stopped going altogether. (That said, I maintain the real reason for his belated retirement is that on leaving his last concert/gig he was mistaken by one group of sweaty revellers as the driver of the minicab they'd ordered.)
So, while the idea of a hall pass sounds appealing, and we might be able to get away with many more youthful objects of desire than previous generations - jeans, sneakers and, diet permitting, a double-breasted suit, for example - there will always be intrinsic differences that mark us out to our younger colleagues. We might not like to admit it, but we dance differently, generally go home earlier, and invariably look a lot worse the morning after. The only consolation is, by the time they've reached 40, they'll feel exactly the same.