© 2007 Ray Wong
Sometimes, trying to figure out what Jim Carrey is thinking is more entertaining than actually watching his movies. Always eager to reinvent himself, the chameleon actor has tried his hands on everything from gross-out comedies to dreary melodramas. This time, he gets himself into the suspense/thriller genre (no, it's not a horror, as the marketing geniuses would want you to believe).
Walter Sparrow (Carrey) is a happily married animal control officer with a loving wife, Agatha (Madsen), and a teenage son, Robin (Lerman). His life takes a strange turn on his birthday when Agatha gets him a self-published book entitled The Number 23 by someone named Topsy Krett. Bitten by a bulldog that seems to be following him around, Walter gets a day off and starts reading the novel. He gets the willies when he realizes the story and characters speak to him personally. And then he starts to see the number 23 popping up everywhere as well.
Soon, Walter is having nightmares about the number 23 and, specifically, about killing his wife, and he becomes extremely obsessed with the number. Everything about him seems to revolve around the number. Walter becomes paranoid and starts to suspect Agatha for having an affair with his friend, Isaac (Huston). Walter believes that whoever Topsy Krett is, he really did commit the murder he described in his book, and that he's still out there, free. Walter sets out to find the mystery writer, and in turn, finds the biggest secret in his life.
Jim Carrey (Fun with Dick and Jane) is a good actor, but sometimes he gets so wrapped up in proving himself that he forgets what he does best. I don't mean to say Mr. Carrey should stick with comedy forever. However, he needs to find something that fits his strengths and not just something "different." This role doesn't work for him. Carrey's edginess and neurosis don't always come across as convincing. Perhaps the problem is that his public persona is so huge that it's hard for him to disappear into his characters. Here, I feel like we're watching Jim Carrey playing Jim Carrey going nuts.
Virginia Madsen (Astronaut Farmer) needs to find better materials. Except for A Prairie Home Companion and Sidways (which earned her an Oscar nomination), Madsen has done stinkers after stinkers such as Firewall, always reduced to playing a distraught, helpless mother. She's a better actress than that. Logan Lerman (Hoot) does an okay job, but his role seems to only function as someone who says "Hey dad, look what I found." Danny Huston (Children of Men) also is much too good an actor to waste his talent on a character so bland and trivial.
Carrey, Madsen and Huston also play Detective Fingerling, Fabriza and Dr. Miles Phoenix respectively, characters in the novel materialized in Walter's imagination.
The Number 23 boasts a script, by new writer Fernley Philips, that is convoluted, overblown and nonsensical. The premise has such potential that I am heartbroken to see it go to waste like this. The story first unfolds in a non-linear way, making it a little difficult to decipher. Also, it moves relatively slowly with not much going on. The first half of the film is nothing but set up for the final half hour. The dialogue is your garden variety cliches. And what's it with the names: Fingerling, Agatha, Topsy Krett? It's almost infantile. The deadliest blow is that the story turns into an illogical mess that lacks credibility, not to mention the final reveal is so obvious that only the half-asleep wouldn't have figured it out.
Director Joel Schumacher (Phantom of the Opera) tries to make something out of the incoherent script. I do like the atmosphere he creates throughout the film and the pacing is adequate. However, his effort simply is not enough to lift the film above its script. The sloppy editing doesn't help either.
Coupled with flat performances and a confusing timeline, worsened by a story-within-story approach, the film sorely disappoints those who are eager to see Jim Carrey in something different and fresh (such as The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind) or a psychological thriller that actually thrills. It's so boring and pointless I keep looking at my watch. With all the money and talents going into this production, it's amazing how bad the film is -- and I blame it on the bad script. I give this film a score of 23; and I'm being generous.
Stars: Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Logan Lerman, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Rhona Mitra, Mark Pellegrino
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Fernley Philips
Distributor: New Line Cinema
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality, and language
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Script – 4
Performance – 6
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 5.4 out of 10