The Number 23

Director    Joel Schumacher
Starring    Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Danny Huston, Logan Lerman, Rhona Mitra
Release    February 23rd (US) February 23rd (UK)    Certificate 15
2 stars


24th March 2007

"Hey funny man! Tell us some jokes!"

Try as he might, Jim Carrey is just never going to be able to play it straight it without some portion of the audience waiting for him to make a stupid face. There's no doubt he's proved he's got the chops for 'serious' acting - The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind both showed a gentler, less lunatic side of Carrey's persona - but characters like Ace Ventura look like being hard to shake off. It's that goofy rubber face that does it: Carrey can furrow his brow and deliver lines with Shakespearian gravitas all he likes, but with such a history in physical comedy, the poor guy will unfortunately always be expected to make with the funny.

Films like The Number 23 do not help. Bury yourself in straight-faced drama or romantic sci-fi and you might just lose the Dumb & Dumber crowd. Play the lead in a movie this pompous and ridiculous and you're setting yourself up for a fall. Joel Schumacher - never the most serious of fellows - is clearly going for a mix of modern mystery and smoky detective noir, but succeeds only in concocting a muddled mess of a movie, one which squanders some genuine potential and makes all involved look rather silly. For an example, see Carrey staring moodily out of the film's poster, biro scribbled all over his face. This is meant to be serious, right?

Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, a man who becomes obsessed with the novel 'The Number 23' after his wife Agatha (Madsen) purchases it for him on a whim. As Walter gets further and further into the book, he becomes convinced the novel is about him and starts to freak out over the number of the title - all of the significant dates, addresses, times and locations in Walter's life all seem to correspond to the mysterious number 23. Walter's quest to uncover the mystery is interspersed with the plotline of the novel, in which detective Fingerling (also played by Carrey, with a slicked-back haircut) also obsesses over the number, leading him to murder and beyond.

Schumacher lets the story unravel nicely enough over the first two acts, with the audience in the dark as much as Walter - simplicity is the key here, and it's to screenwriter Fernley Phillips' credit that something as unassuming as a number can generate a palpable feeling of dread. The number 23 really does pop up in the most unusual places (read here if you've got the time) and there are more than enough numerologists out there who obsess over such minutiae that are willing to take the bait. However, in setting up what seems to be a barnstorming final act, Schumacher ultimately reveals his hand to disappointing effect in a predictable, pedestrian ending - a slow, pitiful deflation when what was needed was to go out on a bang.

Carrey, as hard a worker as he is, looks uncomfortable throughout. With his smile kept in check for the whole movie, he's forced to spit out line after line of workmanlike dialogue, hopping from location to location like he's got no clue as to what's going on. It's not a bad performance per se, more a good example of poor casting - he's fine as family man Sparrow, but the sections from the novel in which he plays a hard-boiled, Chandler-esque private dick border on obtuse parody. You wouldn't cast Will Ferrell as a priest, and you wouldn't cast Carrey as a detective (unless he's a pet detective, of course). Madsen is limited to damage control i.e. following her husband around, yelling things like "You're not crazy!" while Danny Huston is wasted in a role that's little more than a playful distraction.

The Number 23 is a movie that seems more interested in itself than it is in entertaining us - it frequently wallows in self-importance (spot the obvious 'hidden' references to 23 - they're all over the bloody place) and concludes with a smug let-down of an ending that peddles the easiest of answers. It's harmless, throwaway stuff - it's at least fun until the third act - but as far as psychological thrillers go, The Number 23 is a little too much 'psycho' and not enough 'logical'. Dumb & Dumber on the other hand, now there's a film...

More:  Thriller  Noir
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