The Number 23

The Number 23

Film review by: Witney Seibold



            Yeah, I’m afraid this is another one in which I’m going to give away the ending. Trust me, I’m not usually the type of critic who delights in always spoiling things for my readers out of some Olympian sense of superiority to an inferior art. That’s my excuse some of the time, though. No, I simply have issue with the way things turned out in “The Number 23,” so I have to discuss it openly, rather than being maddeningly vague.

            “The Number 23” starts out promisingly enough. A mild-mannered dog catcher named Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey), for his birthday, receives a birthday gift of a manuscript from his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen). The manuscript is called The Number 23, written by one “Topsy Kretts” (Top Sekretts… Get it? Don’t feel bad if you don’t; the film had to spell it out for me), and it follows a hard-boiled detective named Fingerling, whom Walter imagines being played by himself, and whose life and childhood bare a striking resemblance to Walter’s). This Fingerling fellow witnesses a young woman (Lynn Collins from “Bug”) commit suicide because she feels she is being haunted by the number 23. Numerology nuts have a field day with 23, pointing out significant dates or words that all surround it (the Earth rotates on a 23° axis, etc.). Fingerling, however, also “catches” this obsession with 23. Walter, meanwhile begins seeing more and more parallels between Fingerling and himself, and becomes obsessed with the book, and also, in turn, with 23. Agatha and Walter’s game teenage son (Logan Lerman) then go on a wild chase to find the true author of this book to see if Walter’s paranoid 23-related fantasies are true, and if they are related to a recently unearthed local murder. Following all this so far? Walter becomes more like Fingerling, i.e. more violent and wild. He also suspects an affair between his wife and a psychiatrist friend of theirs (Danny Huston). The film is tautly directed until this point by checkered filmmaker Joel Shumacher, and gives us no hugely solid reason to lionize or vilify it.


            But… but…


            Here’s that ending: It turns out, that poking through dusty old hospital offices that still, for some reason, have files to look through, revel the true author of The Number 23 as none other than Walter himself. He committed a murder, confessed it in fictional form, and then suffered amnesia, forgetting all about said murder, reinventing himself as Walter and marrying Virginia Madsen. Let me repeat that. He suffers amnesia, and ends up reading his own book. Oh, and Agatha knew it was his book, and hoped that the story would gently jog his memory.


            O.k. That’s kind of a cheap shot – call it the Tyler Durden complex – but, having seen many, many films of this sort, I can accept cheap plot twists easily. What’s hard to get past is the fact that the title of the film, and the extraordinary amount of time it devotes to the number 23, doesn’t mean a damn thing. That’s right, the odd, almost supernatural obsession that several characters put in 23 has nothing to do with the plot. It’s simply another character trait that Walter shares with Fingerling. So why the heck include all that numerology nonsense at all?


            Because the script is weak is all I can think of. Screenwriter Fernley Phillips knows how to write a decent thriller situation, and Schumacher is certainly good at lending a shiny black oily tinge to any dark ‘n’ scary room, but plotting seems to be a particular weak point in “The Number 23.”

             Another beef I have is the casting of Jim Carrey. Carrey can play creepy very well (he was good as Count Olaf, and was positively unnerving in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), but he’s just too friendly and genial to handle the role of a hard-bitten, violent-sex-lovin’, tattooed-‘n’-slicked-hair noir detective. He’s mostly convincing as the deteriorating Walter, but not capable of riding the dangerous edge the character requires. He should stick to Capraesque everymen. Perhaps he’ll do well as Robert Ripley in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”

Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 2:06 am  Leave a Comment  

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