Ah, another blown opportunity for a Michael Jordan documentary. After all, isn’t that what most people think of when they hear the number twenty-three? Do they really think about how that single number could be the key to unlocking every evil deed done in this world? If the number is in fact evil, should we keep a closer eye on MJ?
Such questions are no more ridiculous than those posed by The Number 23, a sometimes engaging but ultimately unsatisfying wad of Gothic garble. The film operates on a much broader scale than it has any business doing, thus the answers, when they are finally provided in the now-obligatory talky final ten minutes, are frustratingly bankrupt. If it’s any consolation, director Joel Schumacher has made far worse films (his Batman atrocities, Bad Company).
The ever-unpredictable Jim Carrey is Walter Sparrow, a mild-mannered dog catcher who finds himself obsessed with a book his wife (Madsen) recommends, entitled “The Number 23.” The events in the book parallel Sparrow’s life perfectly, with the kicker being that the book describes a murder that has yet to happen. Will Walter commit the murder as he descends into madness, or is it just all in his head?
As preposterously silly as the whole thing is, I found myself engaged by the initial premise. Odd coincidences that look beneath the surface can make for fascinating, haunting experiences – but not here. Instead of building tension, Schumacher decides to, whether intentional or not, go the hokey route whilst providing zero legitimate scares and bizarre comic relief from Carrey. Is it because he doesn’t believe Carrey is a credible dramatic actor or is it lack of faith in Fernley Phillips’ script? I think it’s a combination of both, as Carrey starts the film doing Ace Ventura-lite and then is supposed to be taken seriously when he slicks his hair back and dons a trench coat. Doesn’t this stuff ever come up in meetings?
To his credit, Carrey does about all he can. Out of all born-comedians who have tried their hand at dramatic acting, Carrey has fared amongst the best (the fabulous Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Truman Show). Here he is simply stuck in a corner that even he can’t paint himself out of. Virginia Madsen, who now specializes in playing worried wives, is once again effective in both of her roles, but the material once again sabotages.
The Number 23 isn’t an inherently bad film, just a misguided and disappointing one. In today’s climate of conspiracies, fear, and the desire for everything to have an answer and purpose, the opportunity to capitalize was there. It’s just too bad that no one thought it through.
Studio: New Line Cinema
Length: 95 Minutes
Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality and language.
Theatrical Release: February 23, 2007
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Fernley Phillips
Cast: Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Logan Lerman, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Rhona Mitra