Thursday 16 August 2007

The Number 23 (2007)

Thursday 16 August 2007
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Fernley Phillips

Cast: Jim Carrey (Walter Sparrow/Det. Fingerling), Virginia Madsen (Agatha Sparrow/Fabrizia), Logan Lerman (Robin Sparrow), Danny Huston (Dr Isaac French), Chris Lajoie (Benton), Rhona Mitra (Laura Tollins), Mark Pellegrino (Kyle Finch), Paul Butcher (Young Walter/Young Fingerling), Lynn Collins (Isobel Lydia Hunt) & Bud Cort (Dr Leary)

A man is given a book that seems to be based on his own past, and quickly cultivates a fascination with the number 23...

Jim and Joel; where do you start? Carrey is an undoubtedly talented guy, who dominated movie comedy in the 90s, before moving into serious territory with mixed success (The Truman Show, wonderful; Man On The Moon, terrible). His post-millennial output has been haphazard (Lemony Snicket, forgettable; Dick & Jane, terrible; Eternal Sunshine, fabulous). Inconsistency has dogged him for years now.

Joel Schumacher is a hack who gets lucky sometimes (Lost Boys and Falling Down), but whose talent is best summarised by Batman & Robin and 8MM. I don't hate his work, but it's clear that his attempts at anything elaborate (the Batman's) just become excessive and ridiculous, while projects with darker themes become turgid and limp (8MM).

The Number 23 is based on a popular theory known as the "23 Enigma", which claims the number has great significance and can be found hidden in life, history and nature. For example: it takes 23 seconds for blood to circulate the body, the Latin alphabet has 23 letters, Earth is on a 23-degree axis, Shakespeare was born 23 April... erm, David Beckham's shirt number, etc.

As theories go, it's fun. As the concept for a film, it's intriguing. Sadly, The Number 23 just isn't very good, although the script contains shades of a decent thriller, all being flushed down the toilet by Schumacher's total inability to squeeze tension and suspense from the concept. It may be filmed in a dark and grimy style, but it never gets under your skin.

Jim Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, an animal control officer whose wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) gives him a strange book called "The Number 23". It's not long before Walter, imagining himself as the book's main hard-boiled character, Detective Fingerling, begins to notice strange parallels to his own life in the story. The book also brings the 23 Enigma to his attention and he's amazed to discover his life is perpetuated by that same number....

In typical thriller fashion, Walter's sanity begins to unravel, although his son Robin (Logan Lerman) believes him and his wife can't argue against numerical facts, but she's worried he's becoming obsessed. Despite being about the eponymous number, the film actually spends more narrative time on the fact Walter's life echoes fictional Fingerling's. In that respect, it reminded me of In The Mouth Of Madness (particularly once Carrey is sat in an empty room with numbers scribbled over his entire body.)

Fernley Phillips' scripts is definitely better than the resulting film, although it's very messy in places, and doesn't have characters you care about. Perhaps with a few more drafts and a more suitable director behind the camera, Phillips' work might have been slicker, although the story's internal logic is sound and the film's twist is solid. As with all twists, some people will guess it and feel smug, but atleast it makes sense and hasn't been added unncecessarily.

Virginia Madsen is cruelly wasted, which is a shame. She's one of the most underused and unappreciated actresses working today. I still consider her performance in Candyman (1992) to be one of horror's best by a female star. The supporting actors all do serviceable work, but they're forgettable presences because the script is more interested in spouting 23-isms and plodding on with its dreary murder mystery, which never grabs your attention.

Overall, The Number 23 is a mess. I liked the idea and some of the twistier elements introduced in Act III, but even Jim Carrey looks half-bored by the end. Joel Schumacher's formulaic directing doesn't help, as the film has no sense of depth or intelligence. You actually get more enjoyment reading about "the number 23", than you do watching Schumacher's dreary film. So, with that in mind, read on!

Incidenally, I just realized I watched this movie on 15 August (15/08). 15+8 = 23. Oooohhh...

New Line Cinema
Budget: $32 million (est.)
95 minutes