The Number 23

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Numerologists will have a field day, but most audience members are likely to find themselves first baffled and then numbed by the absurdities of "The Number 23," the new thriller starring Jim Carrey. This tale of an ordinary man caught up in an increasingly convoluted tale involving the number's supposed magical properties is executed in reasonably stylish fashion by director Joel Schumacher, but like so many contemporary thrillers, it becomes carried away by its own excesses.

Carrey, along with several other members of the cast, plays two roles here. The first is Walter Sparrow, a dog catcher who, in one of the film's more ridiculous plot elements, becomes obsessed with one particularly evasive pooch who likes to hang out at the local cemetery. The other is Fingerling, the detective who is the main character of "The Number 23," a mystery novel given to him by his wife, Agatha (Virginia Madsen).

As Walter becomes increasingly obsessed with the supposed mystical properties of the number 23 -- the film provides us with many provocative examples, both verbally and visually -- he also finds himself drawn into the complicated murder mystery at the heart of the novel, involving the detective, a beautiful femme fatale (Madsen), a "Suicide Blonde" (Lynn Collins) and assorted other unsavory characters. The events of the book seem to correspond with Walter's life in uncanny ways, culminating with a surprise twist that will have audience members less shocked than shaking their heads with bemusement.

Ultimately the sheer preposterousness of Fernley Phillips' original screenplay overwhelms the overly convoluted proceedings, and despite the undeniable conviction of the performers, the film eventually becomes more laughable than chilling. Carrey, in his first attempt at a thriller, tries hard to contain his natural exuberance but doesn't really come across as the intended everyman; he seems to be having much more fun in the more stylized role of the shady detective. Madsen, as is the case so often, is wasted as the supportive wife but is more than convincing as the sexy damsel in the fantasy segments. And Danny Huston uses his sonorous voice and natural gravitas to such good effect that for brief moments the premise actually seems convincing.

THE NUMBER 23
New Line Cinema
Contrafilm/Firm Films
Credits:
Director: Joel Schumacher
Screenwriter: Fernley Phillips
Producers: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson
Executive producers: Mike Drake, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Keith Goldberg, Brooklyn Weaver, Eli Richbourg
Director of photography: Matthew Libatique
Production designer: Andrew Laws
Editor: Mark Stevens
Costume designer: Daniel Orlandi
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cast:
Walter Sparrow/Fingerling: Jim Carrey
Agatha Sparrow/Fabrizia: Virginia Madsen
Robin Sparrow: Logan Lerman
Isaac French/Dr. Miles Phoenix: Danny Huston
Suicide Blonde/Mrs. Dobkins/Young Fingerling's Mother: Lynn Collins
Laura Tollins: Rhona Mitra
Running time -- 95 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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