Friday, February 23, 2007

The Number 23

THE NUMBER 23 (Joel Schumacher, 2007)

A dog-eared paperback novel of obsession takes over the life of dogcatcher Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) in THE NUMBER 23. Topsy Kretts' book of the same name bears striking similarities to Walter's past. Paranoid protagonist Fingerling's story reads like something from the pages of a pulp magazine, hardly the stuff of Walter's daily routine chasing canines and coming home to his wife and son, yet he can't shake the feeling that the author is writing about him.

Like Fingerling, Walter starts seeing 23 in everything: the sum of the numbers in his home address, the numerical value of his name, the fateful day (February 3) he began reading the book. The deeper he gets into THE NUMBER 23, the more he believes that the number is something sinister affecting his state of mind. He fantasizes about killing Agatha (Virginia Madsen) just like Fingerling murders his lover. Walter becomes desperate to find Topsy Kretts and get an explanation. His search digs up more questions than answers and amplifies his obsession to a worrisome level.

There is a visible pattern that's hard to deny in THE NUMBER 23, but it's not one that benefits the film. Whether fair or not, Carrey brings expectations of comedy to almost everything he does. He has done good work in serious roles, but playing a manic character becoming unglued isn't the best fit for him. Unlike Guy Pearce in MEMENTO and Christian Bale in THE MACHINIST, Carrey has difficulty playing inner torment without making it look funny, an issue magnified by the silliness of the film's concept and director Joel Schumacher's concessions to utilizing the actor's skills to get laughs.

THE NUMBER 23 labors to convince the audience that there is mystical power in the number, but as these things go, the film makes a less persuasive case than those insisting that Pink Floyd's THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON really was meant to be synchronized with THE WIZARD OF OZ. Finding patterns among random things is easy to do if you use a loose definition for spotting the reoccurring phenomenon. THE NUMBER 23 doesn't provide enough spooky evidence to give us pause or reason to buy into the idea that an otherwise normal person would take this hokum to be true at face value.

This fever dream of a film is too slight in mounting its case for 23's evil properties. At least THE DA VINCI CODE developed an elaborate, history-based conspiracy to influence people that there was something to it. THE NUMBER 23 barely has enough material to squeeze out a feature film. It reaches that running time with a drawn out explanation lacking "gotcha" quality. The big reveal elicits a knowing yawn rather than an exclamation of surprise. That's the only curse to be found in the film.

Grade: C-

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