Jim Carrey has made many brave choices, as do so many comedians who parlay their comic skills into acting, and The Number 23 is one of them. I am a noisy advocate of his dramatic work, and this first time he attempting a psychological thriller is a departure from his previous excellent choices. Walter Sparrow (Carrey) seems fated to find this clumsy little self-published thriller, which touches things inside him he never dreamed existed. The idea of where this movie ends up is an interesting one, and it could have been a great one but for one minor quibble: some of the plot devices that get him there are absolutely ridiculous. For this I blame Joel Schumacher. Nutty twisty thrillers like Seven or The Silence of the Lambs often require the audience to make insane leaps of logic and suspend their disbelief higher than a musical adaptation of Harry Potter. The trick is making you forget the machinations that brought you that incredibly unlikely conclusion (and then you forgive). The Number 23 drops all kinds of whizzbangers into the story line, all of which could have been forgiven if they weren’t so blatantly swept under the rug, like someone hiding their garbage behind a potted plant when you come to visit.
So, the number 23 has some cosmic significance, or else it’s one of those things that when you look for it you find, but in reality is no more common than any of the other significant numbers in our base 10, 360 degree culture. The calisthenics one must go through in order to come up with this “ever present” number are insulting, but the idea is good enough that you can go with it for the sake of the story. The idea that a number can get inside your head, haunting you, cursing you, has already been embraced and popularized by Lost (and 23 is one of those 6 numbers, so…..) so that is a fun idea being taken in a new direction: instead of being bad luck, it can actually change who you are (into someone evil, perhaps?), which is an interesting plot idea. All good so far.
Joel Schumacher, who if nothing else knows how to make the banal stylish (exhibit A: The Island), takes the real-life cast and casts them as the leads in the book Walter is reading, which is cool, since it’s relevant to how he interprets the book. The fun, stylish part is how over the top cornball pulp he does it all, with swooping zoom shots that transition from one place to another in sexy, push-color ways, hokey crime novel dialogue, and smoldering sexual movement everywhere. It’s neat to see Jim in regular guy mode (never has he been as successful at hiding wacky Jim except in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and then in intense dramatization mode. Sometimes it’s so stylish it’s hackneyed or embarrassing, but most of those moments are in the context of the novel, so we can forgive that as well.
And then the third act starts. Clumsy explanations, ridiculous cover-ups and lack of paper trails (or cell phones) make the real-life people in the story (especially with their old-fashioned names like Agatha and Walter) seem straight out of a gumshoe rag in their primitive inability to manage the events in the backstory. And my god, who names their son Robin Sparrow? It’s like a bad joke. Bud Cort makes an uncredited cameo as a person whose entrance and exit from the story is like a deus ex machina when Zeus takes the day off and lets a temp handle the machina duties. Oh I wish I could tell you the thing that made me the craziest with annoyance, but suffice it to say, you could catch this on HBO and not feel like you missed much except some interesting sound design.
MPAA Rating R- violence, distrubing images, sexuality and language
Release date 2/23/07
Time in minutes 95
Director Joel Schumacher
Studio New Line