U.S.A. • 2007 • directed by Joel Schumacher • 98 minutes • New Line CinemaShakespeare was born on April 23rd,1564. A mole is 6.022 x 1023. The Mayans predicted that the world would end on December 23rd, 2012. (20 + 1 + 2 = 23.) Charles Manson was born the 12th of November. (12 + 11 = 23.) And The Number 23 is Joel Schumacher’s 23rd movie, but he still hasn’t figured out how to do anything but drench a story in hip music and Hollywood gloss. 23 is an incoherent mess, with a script from a first-time writer (and let’s hope this is the last time) that desperately needed a visionary director to make it feel smart even if the story itself is something like the mythical snake that’s eating its own tail, and not in a cool way.
The Number 23 is like Eternal Sunshine pitched for the worst kind of pre-pubescent comic book nerd. It’s like the inverse of “The Cable Guy”; it tries to be dark and creepy but just ends up funny. It’s like The Shining and The DaVinci Code got coked up together in Vegas for a weekend and had a baby, and then foolishly tried to raise the child to be just like them, but to no avail.
If I sound a bit, shall we say, incensed, it’s because I’ve been following Mr. Carrey’s recent career with excitement. This is a man who for part of his childhood lived in a van with his parents, then clawed his way to the top in L.A. comedy clubs, became an obscenely rich celebrity off movies like Dumb and Dumber, and now has managed the nearly miraculous––to gain respect as a serious actor. Stupid me, I thought the The Number 23 could mark the next step in his transformation, but it turned out as such stingingly dumb dreck that it basically represents a step backwards. Liar Liar was much better than this.
Carrey plays Walter Sparrow––the kind of name only a first-time writer comes up with––an ordinary animal control guy with a loyal wife and a son named Robin Sparrow. (The screenwriter giggles at his cleverness.) On February 3rd, Sparrow finds a trashy book called The Number 23 and starts reading. The main character, a slimy detective named Fingerling––also played by Carrey, in a stylized Schumacher-masturbation secondary story––likes raunchy sex with his Italian mistress, Fabrizia, and becomes obsessed with the number 23. Sparrow starts finding similarities between the book and his life, and soon he’s spotting 23s everywhere: on an ugly dog’s collar, in his street address, in his birthday, on road signs...
And it’s about at this point that the typical viewer will get that familiar feeling of a story run amok. Carrey starts chasing down clues and writing on himself as he tries to see the number’s significance. His wife stands and stares at him, thinking he’s nuts and clearly wanting to slap him, but doesn’t do anything. Soon the son gets involved. Doesn’t Dad have a job? Should the hot blonde wife worry about going into the abandoned building of death by herself? Nah, they have to get to the bottom of the mystery!
And we do hit bottom, oh yes, the bottom of the miserable amateur screenwriter’s barrel. The spoiler codes of the elders compel me here to go no further, but given the level the movie stoops to for its shocker ending, I’d say it needed 23 rewrites.
After all, what is it trying to accomplish? What interest is it after? If this is a horror film, it’s way too heady and self-interested. If it’s a detective thriller, it’d better reconsider its protagonist. If it’s trying to be anything but hackneyed and glib, it needs to try again. There’s something almost upsetting to me about the familiar gender roles, the “don’t go in there alone!” scene, the nightmare-or-is-it-a-nightmare moment, the avoid-the-obvious plot twists... Did this writer never stop and go “My God! I’ve already seen this scene––and this scene––and this scene––countless times!”?
At one point, Walter Sparrow discovers that the key to his riddle lies in circling every 23rd word in his trash-pulp book. To spare you the trouble of watching him, you can find the key to the movie by doing that right now.