More noise than signal

The Number 23

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

God help them, there are people in this crazy, mixed up world that genuinely believe that the obviously atrocious The Butterfly Effect is a prime example of a great thriller. While it’s tempting to do so, we must remember that it is not our place to provide help for these poor individuals; that is what we have sectioning under the Mental Health Act for. Still, it’s important in a functioning society that the entertainment industry continue to provide ‘product’ for these tragic individuals and I assume this is the reason we are faced with the thin dribble of pish that is The Number 23.

Animal control officer Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) receives a slender novelette from his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) for his birthday entitled The Number 23 , written by one Topsy Kretts. As a way of quickly establishing what level of crowd this film is playing to, at some point over the halfway line of the film a character dismisses authorship of the fantastical contents of the book, claiming that even if he had written it he wouldn’t have chosen so obvious a pseudonym as “Top Secret”. Carrey’s eyes widen, the ‘something of import has occurred’ chords kick in on the soundtrack. The implication, of course, is that this exceedingly obvious little play on words should just have occurred to you. My intelligence has only been insulted quite so badly once in the last year, by the irksome Perfume. Heavens to murgatroid.

At any rate, the book contains the story of a detective known only as Fingerling, also played by Carrey in the stylish, Sin City influenced intercuts. As a way of quickly establishing what level of crowd this film is playing to, on hearing this detective’s pseudonym Agatha mentions what a good name that is. And not, say, a really stupid name at all. Heaven forfend! The noir tinged ‘tec who’s more Payne than Marlowe investigates the case of the aptly named Suicide Blonde (Lynn Collins), who grew so obsessed with the number 23 that it drove her to take “the Gentleman’s Exit”. See, if you take the letters in certain names, convert them to numbers and add them up you sometimes get the number 23! If you take other things and apply increasingly arbitrary arithmetical operations to them you sometimes get the number 23!

This torrent of numerology codswallop overtakes Fingerling’s mind, and then starts exerting a vice-like grip on Sparrow’ s noggin, as the initial identification he finds with Fingerling’s life story grows into a worrying fusion of real-life and fiction. Sparrow decides that the novel is in fact the key to a murder committed umpteen years previously that Sparrow decides proves that the chap convicted of said crime must be innocent. After all, the letters in his name don’t add up to 23. This line of development continues until the film ends, which is a most welcome event indeed.

There had, at the back of my mind, been some hope for this film. After all, this film was directed by Joel Schumacher, responsible for the excellent Phone Booth and Falling Down and starring Jim Carrey, who was so brilliant in Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There had, at the back of my mind, been a tangible dread at the prospect of this film. After all, this film was directed by Joel Schumacher, responsible for the dismal Batman & Robin and Bad Company and starring Jim Carrey, who was so teeth-grindingly irritating in Ace Ventura and, well, pretty much everything else he’s ever done. It’s temping to say that you get the evil version of both the above in The Number 23, but that not strictly accurate.

If there’s one thing you can never (well, nearly never) fault Schumacher for it’s his stylistics, and by golly gosh if The Number 23 isn’t as stylish a thing as he’s done in the last decade, particularly the Fingerling stuff. Carrey gives a performance gratifyingly free of both zany-ness and kerazy-ness, those being the usual horrible hallmarks, and remains committed to his characterisation throughout an earnest performance that in a film that hadn’t decided to separate itself from sensibility would otherwise have earned plaudits.

This of course is the problem with The Number 23; it’s such a stultifyingly silly story that we can’t help but wonder if people only agreed to make it due to the existence of polaroids of them in compromising situations with farmyard animals. If anything this makes Carrey’s po-faced turn all the more irritating, if only someone showed some on-camera sign of knowing what a worthless yarn they were attempting to spin the film would perhaps be forgiven some of its transgressions, but with everyone running around being so gosh-darned earnest it swings between laughable and irritating with wild abandon.

I trust that this states my position clearly. Please stop watching films this poor, it’s only encouraging them.