Number 23, The

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 03/05/07 11:40:02

"If you avoid one Virginia Madsen movie this week..."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

If you circle every 23rd word in this review, you’ll wind up with a message that makes no sense. Neither does paying to see this movie.

Thanks to a protracted ending that undermines all the footage that precedes it, “The Number 23” starts off intriguingly and gradually loses its way with each passing frame. At the screening I attended, teenagers left the theater giddily ridiculing the numerological premise of the movie.

Jim Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, an animal control officer (or dog catcher), who discovers that he has more to worry about than a few stray pooches.

After his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) gives him a battered paperback titled The Number 23: A Novel of Obsession by Topsy Kretts (do you think that’s his real name?), Walter discovers the tale has eerie parallels with his own life and that the number 23 continually pops up in his life.

As Walter continues to plow through the novel (which plays like a satire of film noir), both the printed tale and his own life take darker turns. The fictional detective Fingerling (also played by Carrey) gradually becomes a murderer, and Walter finds himself following in his doppelganger’s obsessive path.

As the opening credits indicate, the number 23 has enough eerily mysterious properties and folklore to keep conspiracy theorists busy until the end of time (or December 21st, 2012 if the Mayans were correct). As you watch the movie, you’ll discover that the number 23 can be derived from that statistic.

However, unless you were eager to do the math to discover that for yourself, you’ll lose interest in the movie quickly. Freshman writer Fernley Phillips and director Joel Schumacher (the guy who will live in infamy for giving us “Batman and Robin”) appear to devote more of their time with the numerology than with the story or characters.

Once the story has to stand on its own, it quickly collapses. When the inevitable mystery is revealed, it feels as if Phillips and Schumacher used a Magic Eight Ball to come up with an ending.

Worse, the two hammer the conclusion to death even after the audience has already figured it out and moved on. It’s almost as if the filmmakers lacked faith in their denouement or forgot it and had to remind themselves. The inappropriate moralizing and sentimentality only make the conclusion seem even sillier.

Carrey can still deliver an aside nicely, but he and the rest of the cast approach the material with an earnestness that’s downright giggle inducing. Playing it straight only works if the material is worth the gravitas the actors try to convey.

“The Number 23” isn’t the most original thriller out there. It borrows heavily for “Pi,” for example. But unless you are the sort of person who would take pride in knowing that both movies were shot by Matthew Libatique, you might be better off staying at home and figuring out how to link it to Kevin Bacon.

On second thought, stick with sudoku. Note: This review originally appeared in

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