The Number 23 (2007)
written by: Fernley Phillips (that name sounds fake)
starring: Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Logan Lerman, and Danny Huston
Okay so... I've mostly had good things to say about these Joel Schumacher movies, you have to admit. Most of them have pleasantly surprised me. More often than not, I have easily found something striking in each movie that I found genuinely interesting, even lovely or poignant. I want to be able to do the same for The Number 23. But....
It's so stupid.
As ever, it's well made. Sure. It's rich to look at, with interesting shot composure, interesting contrast, an artful-esque stylistic palette.
But the story... is so... dumb.
I have had such a hard time trying to figure out anything to say about this movie, because I found it so silly and uninteresting. Somehow it was less watchable than the dull as rocks Bad Company, which is the one of these movies I’ve been least impressed with so far. That movie is at least functional on some level. The Number 23 is somehow not even that. It’s about a guy, Walter, who is nice, who reads a book that’s (gasp) about him! It features the Number 23, a weird magic number, and Walter gets obsessed with the book and the number and it drives him a little crazy and then some TWISTS happen that are frankly nearly unforgivable.
But I’d like to try and be positive nevertheless, so let’s give it a shot—
23 things to like about The Number 23 (2007)
1. There are like ten truly beautiful symmetrical shots, which I think are meant to reflect the parallel stories at play and the mirroring that naturally occurs in our cyclical lives. They’re gorgeous and striking and expertly used.
2. Most times when Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) brings up the Number 23 Enigma, his wife (Virginia Madsen, who deserves better) goes, "You can do that with any number stop being so ridiculous." That’s pretty hilarious for a movie that seems to genuinely believe in this silly coincidence of numbers.
3. Jim Carrey is honestly okay. I like him as an actor and he’s doing generally acceptable work here. He is so well lit in this movie that I’d prefer to watch 90 minutes of him silently reading than the general plot of this movie. Oh shoot! Be positive, Hannah! Come on!
4. Logan Lerman is in this movie! He and Jim Carrey have the same haircut!
5. The stylistic difference between the "real life" and "fiction" stories are distinct and vibrant. Sometimes shockingly dark, sometimes blindingly white, sometimes as drippy and dank and 8MM, sometimes as warm and rich as The Client. That’s cool!
6. Those sequences are also double-cast with the main story-line, a thing I think is always fun. It's fun to watch a cast stretch their wings and show off different aspects of their ability. Goofy dog-catcher Jim Carrey and tortured noir detective Jim Carrey in one movie?? Yes thanks. (It's success is another story, but! positivity!) The double casting also allows the movie to present how Walter is projecting onto the fiction narrative in a visually dynamic way. He sees himself as the protagonist of an exciting story, his wife as a sexy-dangerous femme fatale, Danny Houston as a slimy doctor. In a more ideal movie, that would be totally projection instead of uh, kinda true?
7. The Sparrow family is really supportive of each other!! For a while the movie becomes a kind of family adventure, and those sequences are kind-hearted and more fun than not!
8. There are twists all the time! Probably too many twists!
9. This movie is sortof Shutter Island (which is a better movie than this)!
10. Mark Pellegrino is in this movie as a bearded college professor falsely convicted of murder, and I'm in favor of everything that sentence has to offer me.
11. I think the final message of this movie comes down to an idea about a man's ability to change. That’s something I like a lot, thematically. Does the rest of this movie support that idea? Well, I'm not so sure about that, but in the end the idea that we're not tied down by our pasts, and we are capable of escaping our past behavior and growing past it, is a good one. We don’t have to make the same mistakes over and over again, or choose the same paths. I like that idea. (Unfortunately the movie undercuts this with a real "OR does it??" button)
12. Also this movie has a lot of hugs in it, which I love! This family is really nice! They’re so supportive of each other and so kind!
13. The names! The character names in this movie are insane! Walter Sparrow, Agatha Sparrow, Robin Sparrow. Topsy Kretts (not a name). Isaac French. Kyle Flinch. Wild names.
15. okay I think I'm out of nice things to say, but I'm not about to let that stop me from continuing this list. I'm capable of writing a list.
16. Jim Carrey is sometimes a very good dramatic actor, but in this case he can't quite keep his goofy physicality under check. He's a little too loose limbed, a little too performative across the board. And for some reason, in 2007, he has the haircut of a teenage boy in 2003. I can’t get over that. I really can’t.
17. The Number 23 Enigma stuff is extremely BAD!! Of all the spooky enigmas and mysteries in the world, this 23 thing is the most bullshit, the most inane. As people are constantly reminding Walter Sparrow, you can make any set of data create any number if you try hard enough! The coincidences line up, if you make them. It's not exactly a good premise for a movie, unless the movie has something to say about that, and I don't entirely get the sense that The Number 23 has anything to say about conspiracy theories at all. For a second I thought this was going to be a "this number is evil! A force of evil!" type of story, but then, uh, it's something else entirely.
18. and what it is is a weirdo murder mystery that totally falls apart at the end! For a while, I could go along with the goofy inanity of the movie, but at the end... it totally lost me. It goes from being silly to being eye-rollingly, embarrassingly bad. It's both absurd and deeply stupid. It doesn't really track with what you've seen so far, and in order to make it make some semblance of sense, the movie uses a truly egregious amount of voice over to get us from point A to point 19.
19. I want to lay the blame for most of this on the screenwriting, which is weak and narratively bizarre. But I've seen Joel Schumacher elevate schlocky crap before, and loved it. So the greatest tragedy here is that for all the style and all the panache, nothing is elevated. It’s to no end. It’s just a stylish bad movie instead of a flat bad movie. One wants style to elevate the substance— inform it, support it, make you reevaluate it. None of that happens here, and it’s a damn shame.
20. I mean, this is no movie to be ashamed of. It’s just not good. And genuinely, there is gorgeous set dressing, gorgeous camera moves, gorgeous colors and shots. It’s just…. you know, vaguely terrible. I would have hated to have paid to see this movie in a theater.
21. Oh and it’s also not any fun, which in my book is a bigger knock against this kind of twisty nonsense thriller. There are very few thrills, and often after they come, you shake your head in thinking it was ever a thrill at all. There’s nothing lasting or thought-provoking, not even in the most cursory, shallow way. The thoughts you might have are more along the lines of, "wait, what's going on? And why? And who?" This may be a lurid potboiler, but it sure didn’t get my pot boiling!
22. I would be truly neglectful if I didn't mention that in the fiction-world, Jim Carrey plays a saxophone for a while, like that's a sexy, cool thing. Most people in the real world have a good laugh about that detail, and like, same.
23. So in the end, I have major hesitations about this movie. I do think it’s bad and I do not think it has a lot going for it. It’s premise is too weak, it’s execution is handsome but not doing much. It’s an active waste of time, and I’m very sorry to report that. I was hoping to be able to find something rich in here, like I was able to find in 8MM, but no. Alas, no.
Joel, I don’t know about this one. I cannot support this movie. I tried, I really did. And I can tell you did too, which hurts me the most. Joel Schumacher deserves better material than this. I also deserve better material than this.
Up next: Blood Creek (2009)