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The Number 23

While bolstered by an intriguing premise, the thriller The Number 23 cops out for a slick, Hollywood-ized ending.


The Number 23 starts off with mild-mannered Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) receiving a mysterious novel from his wife, Agatha (Virginia Madsen). Suddenly, his idyllic life is thrust into an inferno of psychological torture as he becomes more and more obsessed with the story about a detective named Fingerling. Cutting between scenes with the real Walter and the fictitious Fingerling (also Carrey), they both delve deep into obsession over what the significance of the number means to them. Now, had the The Number 23 just stuck with that idea--how 23 somehow permeates our very existence--then it may have worked better. Instead, the action veers off into Walter's past, as he starts to unlock suppressed memories and unearths an unsolved murder mystery, which doesn't really have anything to do with the number. And you feel ripped off. Is it a curse (divide 2 by 3 and you get .666)? Does it predict the future (the Mayans believed the world will end Dec. 23, 2012 [20+1+2=23])? Or is it just one of those numbers that haunts you the more you try to figure it out? We want to know more, dammit (that last sentence is 23 characters without spaces, by the way).


Yes, Carrey plays it straight, and this may be his darkest turn yet, but it's not like he's never done it before. Carrey is a consummate actor, folks. He's pretty good at doing whatever he sets his mind to. He played the straight guy in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind just fine, allowing Kate Winslet to be kooky instead. And as Walter, he resolutely indulges in murderous, obsessive-compulsive behavior while including a few moments of his unique comic stylings. Meanwhile, Madsen is playing her second loving and supportive wife of this week (she plays one in The Astronaut Farmer as well), but that's fine. She does it effectively. But what she also gets to do in Number 23 is portray a saucy, sex-craved alter ego from the novel, who likes to have dangerous and kinky sex with Fingerling—and she plays it to the hilt. Give this woman more juicy parts!


Director Joel Schumacher knows how to make a Hollywood movie--that's why the studios love him. Sure, he's made more than his fair share of stinkers (Batman Forever AND Batman & Robin) but he has also made some finely tuned thrillers such as Phone Booth and A Time to Kill. Number 23 sort of falls somewhere in between. Schumacher takes some creative license when we are in Fingerling's world, which makes for some arresting and stylistic visuals, but he and newbie screenwriter Fernley Phillips really stretch things to make the whole murder-mystery subplot work within the context of the premise, opting for cheap thrills and a standardized ending. Honestly, it nearly ruins the whole movie—until you drive home and notice the number 23 EVERYWHERE! Number 23 is still gonna stick with you.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.