|The Number 23 (2007)
Madsen, Logan Lerman, Danny Huston
Director: Joel Schumacher
“The Number 23” can’t seem to figure out whether it wants to be a paranoid thriller, a kinky murder mystery, or an M. Night Shyamalan-style Hook Movie. In the end, it’s all of these things, but it’s not any one of those things long enough to matter. New Line has a history of mucking up movies like this. “Frequency,” the 2000 drama starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, suffered from a similar problem. It started off as a heartwarming father-and-son time travel movie, and then morphs into a hunt for a serial killer. These kinds of movies are clearly not New Line’s thing. They would be better served sticking to genre flicks like the “Final Destination” movies and “Snakes on a Plane.”
Jim Carrey is Walter Sparrow, a dog catcher who’s late for a date with his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) thanks to a scuffle with a feisty dog. Agatha peruses a nearby book store while she waits, and finds a fascinating little book called “The Number 23” that she thinks Walter will like. Walter is instantly fascinated with the book; the tales of its protagonist, an investigator named Fingerling, draw so many parallels into Walter’s own life that he’s convinced that the book is about him. One of the story’s plot threads involves a girl that’s referred to as Suicide Blonde (Lynn Collins), who is obsessed with the number 23, convinced it can be found in literally anything and everything. Walter falls under its spell as well, and before long his life spirals out of control in near-perfect sync with Fingerling’s.
I’ve just explained the paranoid thriller part of the story. Seems pretty entertaining, even if the theory itself is complete bunk, right? By and large, that part is entertaining; unfortunately there’s not enough of it to go around. Director Joel Schumacher, a man who has a tendency to get lost in the spectacle of things (though not always, as “Falling Down” and “Tigerland” will attest), directs the movie with flair but keeps the proceedings as grounded as the source material will allow. He certainly directs Carrey with more authority than he did in “Batman Forever,” but then again, he did allow Carrey to actually say the line, “I’m a killer! I have killed someone!” And for that, he should be punished, as should screenwriter Fernley Phillips for writing the line in the first place.
Even at a short 95 minutes, I found myself checking my watch at the 50-minute mark, which is probably the moment when the movie shifted into kinky murder mystery mode. It never recovers from this point on, though even the murder mystery seems tolerable in light of the Hook Movie twist they throw at us at the end. They were clearly going for the surprise ending of a certain grisly ‘80s thriller that will go nameless here for fear of spoiling it for anyone, but suffice it to say that they didn’t come remotely close.
It’s easy to see why Jim Carrey was drawn to “The Number 23.” He didn’t have to be rubber-mask-faced funny man, and he didn’t have to be Overly Dramatic Man, either. These movies, however, are all wrong for him (assuming, of course, that they’re right for anyone else), and if he’s smart, he still has Peter Weir and Milos Forman on speed dial. His salvation lies in their hands, not the hands of some clumsy pulp fiction writer with a De Palma fixation.
Unrated DVD Review:
New Line’s infinifilm label has a history of delivering quality DVDs, and the single-disc release of “The Number 23” isn’t any different. From the insightful commentary track with director Joel Schumacher, to a featurette that further deconstructs the infamous 23 Enigma, fans of the film (and the theory) will find the included bonus material an excellent supplement to the movie itself. Also included are 16 deleted scenes (including an alternate opening and ending), two making-of featurettes (one solely on creating the alternate world of Fingerling), a trivia track, and the “How to Find Your Life Path Numbers” featurette starring a numerologist who comes across more like a crazy carnival psychic than an actual scientist.