The Number 23

| March 1, 2007

I have to admit that this one hurt a little. Sometimes, as much as you don’t want them to, they just do. I truly wanted to like The Number 23. I had high hopes for Jim Carrey’s first thriller role. To be completely honest, I’m not sure Jim Carrey was the problem for me with The Number 23. But, we’ll get into that in a minute.
The Number 23–directed by Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth, 8mm, The Lost Boys), written by first-timer Fernley Phillips, and starring Jim Carrey–is about Walter Sparrow, dog catcher, father and husband. Walter’s seems like a good guy leading a normal life at first glance. Then, his wife (played by Virginia Madsen) buys him a book in a used-book store for his birthday, and Walter becomes obsessed with the book. The book is part-hardboiled detective novel, part-murder confession and part-obsessive diatribe on the demonic properties of the number 23.
Walter sees himself in the main character of the book. He feels the novelist is drawing from his life to create the novel. There are copious dream scenes played out from the novel, with Carrey as “Fingerling,” the book’s heavily tattooed and sadomasochistic detective. Meanwhile, back in his regular life, Walter becomes more unhinged, seeing the number 23 in everything related to his life and determined it’s a curse that’ll lead to ruin. He seeks out the author behind the book to get to the truth of the number 23, which leads to climax of the film, which I won’t give away here.
The idea itself seems interesting enough, doesn’t it? It appears to promise plenty of paranoia, a descent into madness, a story within a story, and plenty of twists and turns. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t deliver on these initial promises. Instead, it features a truly banal voiceover that completely explains the story as we go. It’s a voiceover that totally lacks any sense of mystery, and lends nothing to the story. There’s even a complete disregard for dramatic tension and logic as events unfold and Walter slips further into mania. For all of these problems, I think we have to look to director.
When Joel Schumacher’s on, he’s really on, as evidenced by movies like Tigerland, Falling Down and even The Client. But when he’s off, he’s beyond off–do I need to mention Batman and Robin or 8mm? The Number 23 definitely falls into the latter category of Schumacher movies. It might even top the list. Watching this film, I got the sense that the initial story idea was complicated but engaging, and in the process of bringing it to the screen by Schumacher, who tried make it easier to understand for audiences, it was watered down so far that the original spark was snuffed out. Sometimes, you just have to let challenging stories remain challenging.
Like I stated above, I wanted to like The Number 23. I was hooked by the numerology slant of the story and whether or not Jim Carrey could reinvent himself in this kind of role. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a good thriller, especially the straight-ahead kind that the trailer promised. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any of these things in The Number 23. Instead, I found another forgettable Joel Schumacher picture, all style no substance. A movie I had a hard time remembering by the time I walked out of the theater.

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