THE NUMBER 23
A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2007 David N. Butterworth
** (out of ****)
Take any sequence of numbers and, with relatively little effort,
you can probably make them add up to 23. (Or 41. Or 117, whatever.)
"If A is 1 and Z is 26 then the numbers that correspond to RED and WHITE
add up to 92. Divide 92 by four, the number of letters in PINK, and the
result is... 23!"
That's just one of the many numerological manipulations presented
in "The Number 23." The real challenge is figuring out whether these
fantastic formulas make it a psychological (if pedestrian) thriller or a
Not unlike Woody Allen, Jim Carrey likes to take a break from
comedies and tackle something a little more thematically challenging
every once in a while. For every "Ace Ventura" and "Bruce Almighty"
there's a "'Truman Show," for every "Dumb & Dumber" and "Liar Liar"
there's a "'Majestic." Carrey has actually received some of his better
press for more dramatic roles, such as his Joel Barish in "Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" or playing the real Andy Kaufman in "Man
on the Moon," but there are many--like that fan in Allen's "Stardust
Memories"--who remember with fondness the time their hero made funny movies.
In "'23" Carrey plays an only mildly amusing animal control expert,
Walter N. Sparrow, who becomes obsessed with a blood-red covered book
his wife ("Sideways"' Virginia Madsen) picks out for him in a bookstore.
The hero (or villain) of the piece seems to resemble Walter in
strangely precise ways and pretty soon Walter, much as the book's
central protagonist Fingerling, becomes infatuated with the number 23.
He sees it everywhere; it occupies his every thought; it precipitates
nightmares. Eventually Walter learns that a murder has been committed
and comes to believe that the murderer is still at large.
The film is tolerable largely because of Carrey, who exudes a
grounded credibility in a screenplay (by Fernley Phillips) that skirts
the incredible and toys with the preposterous. Carrey looks good too,
with shoulder length hair and a perennially dour expression.
Madsen is certainly adequate as Agatha "Aggie" Sparrow but is
starting to run the risk of being typecast as The Wife--she was Mrs.
Harrison Ford in "Firewall" and is currently on display as "The
Astronaut Farmer"'s spouse right there alongside Billy Bob Thornton's
astronaut farmer. Madsen certainly has the acting chops to handle a
more provocative part. In fact, she presents well as the vampish
Fabrizia in the monochromatic rendering of the book's puzzling
pages--director Joel Schumacher ("Phone Booth") shoots these sequences
like a hard-boiled detective noir with gumshoes, molls, and Carrey's
jingoistic narration. There's also a suicide blonde, some cool opening
credits, and Danny Huston as an ever-present family friend who always
seems to be saying "I should be going."
Unlike Walter Sparrow it's probably not worth losing sleep over the
myriad of numerical references and forced connections in the film since
ultimately "The Number 23" doesn't add up (to much). But it's a stylish
and 2/3rds decent effort that further embraces Jim Carrey's willingness
to try something a bit different.
David N. Butterworth
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