The Number 23 Review
Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) is an ordinary, average Joe in just about every aspect of his life. He has a respectable blue-collar job as an animal control officer and he comes home every night to his loving wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) and his teenage son Robin (Logan Lerman). He's not the sort of person weird things happen to, at least not until his latest birthday, when normality suddenly flies out the window.
That's the day he's late meeting his wife in town, having been bitten by a mysterious stray dog at work and forced to take his injured arm to hospital. While Agatha's waiting for him, she ducks into a second-hand book shop and starts leafing through an unusual paperback called The Number 23. Finding it interesting, she buys it for her husband and thus unwittingly sets him on the road to insanity.
Walter doesn't merely become engrossed in this book, he becomes obsessed with it. Why? The story's narrator, a detective driven to madness and murder, is freakishly similar to himself and many of the story's details echo his own life. More frighteningly, Walter comes to believe in the detective's paranoid theory that there's something sinister about the number 23, that everything in his life is related to it - dates, times, random numbers, the numeric values of words. He becomes convinced that the number holds some kind of power over him.
This is an intriguing idea for a movie, all the more so when you learn that there really are those who think there's something weird about that particular number (google "23 enigma"). It's a shame then that The Number 23 is such a confused, undisciplined film. It's never even clear what kind of film it's trying to be. Is it a black comedy? A supernatural thriller? A film noir? A horror film? A psychological drama? First-time screenwriter Fernley Phillips throws elements of all those genres into the stew and fails to stir them satisfyingly. The result is such an odd film that I wouldn't be surprised if it picked up a cult following. It's certainly different! However, most viewers are going to leave the cinema either deflated or scratching their heads.
The ending is both the best thing about the film and a prime example of what's wrong with it. While the climactic twist is not original - it's a variation of something we've seen numerous times before - it does have a certain emotional impact. Afterwards though, ask yourself this - what does it have to do with most of what's gone before? How does it explain the chain of coincidences that led up to it, like Walter being given the book? How does it tie in with the dog? Or with the number 23 for that matter? The story hasn't been properly thought out.
Working with such a muddle of a script, director Joel Schumacher overcompensates, showing off what tricks he can do with the camera and in the editing room. Example: he shoots the (unnecessary) private eye scenes from the book in a grainy, light-drenched, film noir style. This is distracting and ugly to look at (you can barely tell which actors you're watching) and it looks like a bad take-off of Sin City, which did the same sort of thing far better. The overbearing direction is an old story with Schumacher. He's a solid film-maker when he has strong material (Falling Down, Tigerland) but he's never quite lost his tendency to fall back on music video pyrotechnics when he doesn't.
Jim Carrey does some good work in this movie. He's very effective in the final scenes - that they work so well is largely thanks to him. However, his performance is a victim of the film's chaotic nature. He's struggling to play a character who isn't really believable in scenes that don't make sense, with the tone constantly shifting around him. It was also a big mistake to let him adopt his familiar comic persona in the early scenes, even if he is more restrained than usual. It takes a while to establish this isn't going to be a comedy. Still, Carrey does better than the rest of the cast. Even Virginia Madsen, so unforgettable in Sideways, doesn't make much of an impression here.