In 23 words: The Number 23 is a thriller that serves as an example of inept filmmaking characterized by the complete absence of logic and suspense. Believers of the so-called 23 Enigma – the idea that all events are connected to the number 23 – might get a thrill out of this, but for everyone else scarcely anything will add up.
With The Number 23, director Joel Schumacher, whose previous films include Bad Company and The Phantom of the Opera, has generated a stupefyingly nonsensical story marred by plot holes of canyon-esque proportions. Worse yet, screenwriter Fernley Phillips seems intent on sidestepping any opportunity to add suspense to his absurd tale.
For dogcatcher Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey), the mystery of the number 23 begins as he dives into a puzzling novel his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) bought him for his birthday. The book, which shares its title with the movie, tells of a bizarre murder investigation led by a spooky detective named Fingerling.
As he reads on, Walter discovers that he and Fingerling have something terrible in common: everything in their respective lives adds up to the number 23. As a result, Walter becomes obsessed with the idea that the book is a mirror image of his life, and starts to see 23 everywhere: his social security number, driver's license, birthday – even the day he first met his wife.
From then on, all the movie does is oversupply its audience with loads of peculiar dates and numerical combinations that, whether by fair or foul means, all add up to 23. The human body, for instance, is made up of 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent. The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912 (4+1+5+1+9+1+2=23). Two divided by three equals .666, the number of the devil – you get the picture.
Sadly, the filmmakers responsible for The Number 23 got so enmeshed in that excessive numerical trivia that they forgot to develop a compelling storyline. In their desperate attempt to create a stirring atmosphere, they merely switch back and forth between Walter's fixation on the number and his reading of the book. Those book-reading sequences consist of a series of gloomy setups, with Carrey also playing Fingerling. How original. (Mark Stevens' edgy editing, however, provides the movie with its only positive element.)
Jim Carrey, whose remarkably idiosyncratic performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind proved his capacity for playing drama, mostly disappoints in his double role as (unfunny) animal control officer and tattooed detective. Perhaps that's because the development of Walter's obsession with the number 23 feels so rushed and devoid of credibility that it's almost comic.
Ultimately, you don't have to be a math wizard to crack this frivolous puzzle. But considering the idiotic decisions the characters make throughout the film's 93-minute running time, why would you care to?
The first page of Walter's novel reads: If anything in this book reminds you of yourself or anyone you know, stop reading immediately! If only Walter had done so.
© Franck Tabouring