THE NUMBER 23
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Danny Huston, Logan Lerman, Lynn Collins, Rhona Mitra
MPAA Rating: (for violence, disturbing images, sexuality and language)
Running Time: 1:35
Release Date: 2/23/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
Part of the problem with The Number 23 is director Joel Schumacher's interpretation of mood and atmosphere. For him, it's a glamorized thing that is only a few steps removed from the equally shiny normality of everyday life. So the problem with Schumacher's understanding of atmosphere is that he has none. He specializes in a form of polished, slick filmmaking that doesn't fit the darker material to which he is inexplicably drawn. Schumacher's style is too slick, his sense of the macabre too watered-down, and his concentration on the thematic implications of the story too distracted by more generalized ideas to really get at the dark heart of the material. What has saved some of his darker fare in the past is the strength of the sort of material with which he instinctively plays instead of explores, but with The Number 23, the script by Fernley Phillips does a decent job undermining its own intentions in a final act that explains the entire mystery away to its minutest detail. Then again, the bulk of the plot is only setup for the script's obligatory twist, so maybe Schumacher's directorial missteps aren't the movie's biggest problem.
Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) is an animal control officer, and it's his birthday today, February 3. He has a night planned out with his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen), who bakes cakes for a living. He starts out narrating the story of the events that will pass as the days go on, but the movie literally rewinds back to December 23 for some unknown reason to watch Walter shoot down the flirtations of another woman. Back in the day at hand, he is only minutes away from another monotonous day of sitting in his truck, waiting for calls that never come, when he gets an unwanted call about a dog on the loose. Still on the job, he responds, but the dog is a difficult catch, grabbing on to Walter's arm and giving him a good wound in the process. He follows the dog to the local cemetery, where it stands watching of the gravestone of one Laura Tollins. Done with the canine for now, he goes to pick up his wife, who has wandered into a book store next door to her work. She finds a book called The Number 23, and after paging through it while waiting, she buys it for her husband.
The book tells the story of an unnamed man who calls himself Fingerling, after a children's book he remembers from his childhood. Fingerling followed a dog into a neighbor's house and witnessed the aftermath of a woman's apparent suicide. Walter recognizes odd similarities in the narrative—the book was one of his own childhood reads, there was a neighbor's dog, and his own mother committed suicide. Fingerling grows up to become a detective, now also played by Jim Carrey, who has an encounter with a blonde woman who also kills herself over her obsession with the number 23—not the book, the actual number. See, there are lots of connections to the number that it is semi-officially called an enigma. Add up dates of certain events (9/11/2001, Hitler's birthday 4/20/89, the Oklahoma City bombing 4/19, and others that play over the opening credits), and the sum is 23. Funny coincidence, and enough to get Fingerling and Walter heading towards insanity. Schumacher and cinematographer Matthew Libatique film the childhood scenes of the book in an odd story-book idealism and Fingerling's early detective career with overly saturated lighting. It's an obvious, unnecessary juxtaposition, and the way the book's look begins to mirror the style of the real life sequences plays out the same way.
Just as obvious and in tune with Schumacher's sensibilities of approaching dark material is an overabundance of blood red. The walls of Walter's living room, a blanket while reading the book, the cover of the book are all the symbolically weighted color. Fortunately, Phillips' script and the way it weaves in and out of fantasy and reality keeps everything slightly more intricate than Schumacher's color palette and ambient lighting. There are a lot of 23 sightings to be done here, and not just what's pointed out to keep things moving. I suppose that's a bit of fun, but then again, how interesting can the story actually be if more time is spent looking in the background for hidden number messages than actually trying to decipher what's going on? It's not particularly necessary to pay too much attention, though, because once the big twist occurs, Phillips' script spends a lot of time explaining every detail. The clarification is redundant; it's fairly clear what the truth behind the scenario is once a vital piece of information is revealed. Schumacher's attempt at fitting lighthearted music into what a voice-over tells us (and what obviously) is not the happiest of endings is more than a little disconcerting.
Carrey does fine by the material. Virginia Madsen's newly found type-cast role as the supportive wife is pushed to new limits of plausibility, but while The Number 23 certainly doesn't work, it is somewhat of a harmless diversion. It did make me think of this: There are four letters in my first name, and six in my last. Four and six combined is 46, which is 23 times two. I have no clue what that means.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.