Unlike everywhere else the number 23 appears, this one is insignificant

The Number 23

on February 23, 2007 by Jay Antani
Greater than the terror that Jim Carrey's character — a down-and-out dogcatcher named Walter Sparrow — feels in the course of The Number 23 may have been that which Carrey and his castmates felt midway through production as the glowering awfulness of this project began to dawn on them. To be fair, The Number 23 could have been dandy on the page. Conceptually, this is a clever enough psychological thriller about a book with the power to condemn its readers to paranoia and madness, before the story segues into a domestic melodrama about a man coping with long-buried (or, rather, deeply suppressed) skeletons in his closet.

One night, for Sparrow's birthday, his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) gives him a strange book. It's self-published by a confidential author and written in a fevered typescript. At first, it's just a work of pulp fiction about Fingerling, a detective (also played by Carrey, now sporting a dark, ghoulish look, complete with trench coat and pomaded hair) who, while investigating the death of a troubled blonde, becomes obsessed with the number 23. Fingerling's obsession enmeshes with his sadomasochistic relationship with a femme fatale (also Madsen). The latter boils over into jealous-rage territory, thanks to the sexual interloping of Fingerling's wormy psychiatrist (Danny Huston). Deaths by knifing and window-hurling later, it's Fingerling's life that hangs in the balance — and up to the real-life actions of Sparrow to set the matter straight.

Back in the "real" world, Sparrow too gets "23" fever, seeing it turn up everywhere around him. His friend Isaac (a fey Huston, again) schools him on 23's tremendous mystical and historical significance, but Sparrow's more concerned about whether Isaac's got the hots for his wife. The deeper Sparrow delves into the book, the more parallels he finds between Fingerling and himself. Soon, it's a family affair with wife and son (Logan Lerman) — who's now in Hardy Boys heaven — tagging along as Sparrow, led by a mysterious dog (don't ask) that leads them to uncover clues as to the identity of the book's author and his own blocked-out past. Still reading? I'm not.

The reason for Number 23 's thorough tepidness, apart from Fernley Phillips' muddled and ultimately pedestrian script, is Schumacher's dopey direction, marked by that stale '90s-era music-video style and bereft of any sense of thematic purpose. For lack of a substantive character, Carrey reaches for the frumpy physicality of his Joel Barish from 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Here, Carrey looks perfectly haunted and ghastly, but it's an awkward performance because, unlike his fully realized turn in Eternal Sunshine — where the interior informed the exterior — Sparrow is just a big nothing. He's a vaguely unhappy family man, a cipher into which Carrey posits whatever signs of soulfulness and humor he can. Sparrow is given to tired quips and remarks that seem born of Carrey's nervous realization that the material has afforded him no substance or bearing. Madsen and Huston seem equally flummoxed, while Lerman troops along gamely, happy to be along for the ride. The same cannot be said for the rest of us. Distributor: New Line
Cast: Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Danny Huston, Logan Lerman and Rhona Mitra
Director: Joel Schumacher
Screenwriter: Fernley Phillips
Producers: Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality and language
Running time: 95 min.
Release date: February 23, 2007

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