‘The Number 23’ gets equation wrong, ends up a zero

Andrew Gaug

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – a funnyman decides to go serious in a movie in which he discovers a book has been written about his life. But, it doesn’t star Will Ferrell and it’s not Stranger Than Fiction.

Though its similarities stop there, The Number 23 is a prime example of a bad concept made worse.

Jim Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, an animal control employee (in a subtle nod to his Ace Ventura days) who lives happily with his wife and son. The first 15 minutes that introduce Sparrow are by far the best part of the film as Carrey fleshes out his character with the charm that propelled past serious attempts such as The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The movie quickly loses its scope once Sparrow discovers a book called The Number 23. Although he had never been a fan of books before, he is more than obliged to pass up parties and work to read the book he believes is his life story.

As he reads about the book’s main character, Fingerling, the audience is presented with what he’s reading in red or white-tinted flashbacks with Carrey as the role of the neurotic, sax-playing detective who solves mysteries and delivers bad dialogue.

The Number 23

Starring: Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Logan Lerman

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Distributed by: New Line Cinema

Rated R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality and language

Stater rating (out of five): ?

After Fingerling is given a curse of the number 23 from a girl who is attempting to commit suicide, Sparrow believes he has inherited this numerical affliction. As he illogically hammers away at the many things that can be connected to 23 – from his address to his anniversary – it all becomes so redundant and far-fetched the audience almost expects Michael Jordan and Lebron James to show up and give him clues about what he should do next.

Though his sanity is in clear decline, Sparrow’s wife only questions it a few times in passing. Instead, she accepts it and she and her son help Sparrow solve the mystery of who wrote the book and the importance of the number – neither of which has any payoff.

As it slowly crawls to its “twist” of an ending, it comes off more as a failed concept for an episode of “The X-Files” than a film that took more than five minutes of thought to piece together.

Stranger Than Fiction took its concept of a story-within-a-story and had fun with it while keeping its serious tone. The Number 23 seems like Joel Schumacher’s attempt at channeling a pitch-black tone from films such as Seven with Secret Window.

Fingerling’s story doesn’t work because there’s barely any background about the character and is further marred by Carrey’s poor attempt at sounding like what can be assumed is Humphrey Bogart. Sparrow’s story doesn’t work because after the first quarter of the film there’s hardly a character in the film who cares about it, except for maybe a dog that follows Sparrow around.

Carrey’s dramatic work has been excellent when helmed by the right director such as Peter Weir or Michel Gondry. In Batman Forever and 8MM directed by Joel Schumacher, it feels as though he wanted this to be Carrey’s Shining role, but it ends up being more along the lines of failed horror attempts such as Ryan Reynolds, Eddie Murphy and Vince Vaughn.

I can take Carrey talking to animals, leading a chase to give someone back a briefcase or getting his mind erased of all bad memories. Here he is given a ridiculous role in an equally outlandish movie that misfires on all cylinders.

Contact ALL assistant editor Andrew Gaug at [email protected].