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The Number 23
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2007

Format: Movie
By:   Joel Schumacher (director)
Genre:   Thriller
Released:   February 23, 2007
Review Date:   March 06, 2007
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   5/10 (What Is This?)

"Sounds like a lot of "what if's". – Walter

How did I get talked into seeing a Schumacher flick? Oh, right, I'm a Discordian. I know The Law of Fives, which incorporates "the holy 23 (2+3=5)." As the Principia Discordia says:

"The Law of Fives states simply that: ALL THINGS HAPPEN IN FIVES, OR ARE DIVISIBLE BY OR ARE MULTIPLES OF FIVE, OR ARE SOMEHOW DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY APPROPRIATE TO 5. The Law of Fives is never wrong. In the Erisian Archives is an old memo from Omar to Mal-2: "I find the Law of Fives to be more and more manifest the harder I look."

So I had to see this movie. Eris gave us chaos, but Schumacher gave us batsuits with nipples. I could only hope that The Eris Effect would cancel out The Schumacher Effect. The Number 23 stars Jim "The Mask" Carrey as Walter Sparrow, an urban dogcatcher who seems to have a pretty decent life. So the movie also has to contend with his Over-Mugging Effect.

Walter is living the typical suburban existence with his wife Agatha (Virginia "Firewall" Madsen), who owns a bakery shop, and son Robin. They have a modest home that Agatha is repainting, and things are good. That is until a twist of fate, involving a dog named Ned, that bites Sparrow, leads them to discover a little book called The Number 23: A Odyssey Into Paranoia. From here, everything starts to spiral out of control.

The book is about a police detective named Fingerling, his kinky relationship with the alluring Fabrizia, and the number of the title. As Sparrow reads the book, the movie shifts to the twisted noir world of the novel, where Carrey plays Fingerling, Madsen is Fabrizia and so on. We have odd angles, dark shadows, moving backgrounds and other touches to make it a cool, unreal echo of the "real" world.

As Sparrow, Carrey is kind of quiet, unassuming, and looks his 45 years of age. As Fingerling, he's got long, slicked back hair and seems to be channeling Nick Cave's brand of dark cool.

The novel fascinates Sparrow, because he shares a lot of similarities with the main character: childhood interests, books, and more. He starts to strongly identify with the detective. Sparrow starts getting caught up in it, a lot more than should be healthy. Then Fingerling meets a woman who explains to him about the number 23, how it crops up everywhere, following her, chasing her. The number then begins to haunt Fingerling. This leads Sparrow to start seeing the number everywhere as well. From here the movie charts the downward spiral of both Fingerling and Sparrow.

The movie has a lot going for it. It does a great job showing us the 23 enigma, the arguments both for and against. The movie has the number pop up all over the place, as well as other little visual gags like a sign with two letters burnt out so there are 23 remaining letters, or the name of the bookstore being "A Novel Fate."

The scenes from the novel are very fun, and Carrey gives a very solid, mug-free performance. The mysteries of the movie (Who wrote the book? Is Ned a normal dog or a supernatural hound? How does all this connect to Sparrow?) work quite well.

That all ends, however, when we hit the final act where all is revealed.

Now it's impossible to talk about why the movie falls apart without some major spoilers, so you'll want to skip the next paragraph if you care about such things. I'm going to try and remain vague on details, but there are still some major spoilers here.

I say again in bold for emphasis. Major spoilers.

Okay, the murder in the book is real, and the wrong person was convicted of it. However, the victim has an ex who ended up in the mental ward, and the police never questioned them? The defense never thought to use that angle? And someone needs to slap the screenwriter for hiding the fact that a main character had previously been in a mental institution with amnesia until the very end of the movie, when all the characters knew about it and should have brought it up earlier. It's a cheat, and a really bad one at that. It destroys the main mystery.

The Number 23 is a frustrating movie, because if it had not collapsed under itself at the end, it would be a great flick about paranoia, destiny and grabbing control of your own fate. It also has one of Carrey's best performances since The Truman Show. It overcame the Schumacher and Over-Mugging Effects, only to fall prey to the Weak Screenwriting Effect.

Another way I suppose you could say it is that two out of three ain't bad.

RevStaff Writer Gary Mitchel’s review has been brought to you today by the number “23”, and by the letter "Q."

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