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Movie Review: The Number 23

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Before we get started, and this is for you wrestling fans, when you look at the poster, do you see Mark Calloway? When you approach the prospect of watching this, and this is for you Jim Carrey fans, are you ready for a Jim Carrey that is decidedly different than the Jim Carrey you know and love?

This is a very different role than we have ever seen Carrey play before, and I do not think that it is a stretch to think that many may not want to see him in it. Look at what happened with Cable Guy. Yes, it was a comical movie, but it was considerably darker than anything he had done prior, and I do not think the public (generally speaking) wanted to see it. Now, some years have passed, and Carrey has done some more dramatic work, but is still primarily a comedian. Now here we have him starring in a film, a thriller, where he plays a man obsessed with a number. Very different, indeed.

When I first heard about The Number 23, I knew that I was going to see it whether it reviewed well or not. Much like the main character, I am drawn to the number; for years it has marked the passage of time and ticked away my life's accomplishments and failures. It demands my attention, and there is no way to ignore it. It has this power over me, it is always watching over me, like a stone gargoyle high atop a cathedral, or the way of murder of crows moves about the sky closely watching the movement beneath.

Numbers hold power, they contain the secrets of the universe, there is no escaping it, and 23 is their leader, the captain of captains, the cornerstone keeping all others in check. If you take a minute and search within yourself, you will find the truth — 23 is the key to unlocking all things.

Okay, I don't know what that was all about, but needless to say, I had to see it. My birthday falls on a 23, so there's my in. Now whether or not the movie is actually good is a completely different matter. As I left the theater I felt conflicted; there were things to like about it, things not to like about it, and much to feel non-committal about. Is it good? Sort of, but it could have been so much better.

The story centers on Walter Sparrow, a dog catcher with a loving family. On his birthday, his wife buys him a book called – what else – The Number 23. At first, Walter has no interest in reading it, but soon enough he starts to read through it. As he reads it, he becomes convinced that it is really about him, that someone has taken the events of his life and turned them into a thinly veiled work of fiction. The further he reads, the more pages he turns, the more he becomes utterly convinced that it is his life, and everything it contains is the truth. With this realization, he sets out to find the author and whatever secrets he may hold.

The main problem with the film is that it plays with some ideas that don't pay off in the end, for example, the dog. I found the dog to be an annoying recurrence. I know it was necessary for the first encounter, but the returns to the animal and the guys at the cemetery feel like a failed thread.

There are a few instances of directions that feel incomplete, unfulfilled. Then, when the climax rolled around, I felt like I had seen it before, and it just seemed like a rush job, like the writers were unsure how to resolve it, and forgot to include the number in its twist, making the number inconsequential as anything more than a device to display Walter's increasing instability. The resulting finish dragged down all the good things that had peppered the previous hour.

While the plot feels recycled, there is very nice use of style, and narrative device to propel the plot, proving that when director Joel Schumacher is on, he's on. It doesn't hurt that Carrey effortlessly slips into the dual roles of the obssessive Walter, and the hard boiled Fingerling. That leads to the strongest part of the film, the overlapping tale of Walter's obsession with the book and the number, and the dark, tattooed tough guy Detective Fingerling. The neo-noir of Fingerling (the main character in the book The Number 23) is wonderfully shot and realized, even if Fingerling is the only interesting character. Carrey does a good job of displaying both the tough, gritty character, and the unbalanced Walter, creating two sides of a single coin.

Bottom line. In the end, the film is an interesting experiment in non-funny Carrey. The narrative may not hold together upon close inspection, yet it does have a nicely stylish execution with its dual tales. There was plenty of potential, partially realized, resulting in a middling thriller that may be a little too stylish for its own good.

Mildly Recommended.

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  • Bobb999

    As the reviewer writer suggests, the Number 23 Enigma didn’t begin with this movie!
    Strange coincidences involving #23 were noticed by William S. Burroughs back in the early ’60s, associated especially with death and disaster, often in the form of disaster headlines, such as “Montreal Apt. Blast kills 23”.
    Writer Robert Anton Wilson learned about #23 from Burroughs, and went on to experience uncanny 23-coincidences in his own life. For Wilson, although a dark side to 23 was acknowledged, he mostly viewed it as a positive signal in his life’s journey.
    For 25 years, like Burroughs,I have noticed 23 in uncountable disaster news items.
    Carrey, in his real life has personally been obsessed with the many odd 23-coincidences he’s noticed.

    The belief of myself, Carrey, Burroughs and Wilson, is that something beyond sheer chance is afoot with the 23 Enigma! Jungian synchronicity is an explanation.
    That is, something, er, cosmic, is at work!

    I have an informative 23 Blog with excerpts of 23 writings from Burroughs and Wilson plus comments from Carrey on #23.

  • This is a recommended article on the BC Movie Review General forum…