Combustible Celluloid
Search for Posters
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
Download at i-tunes Download on iTunes
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Logan Lerman, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Rhona Mitra, Mark Pellegrino
Written by: Fernley Phillips
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality and language
Running Time: 95
Date: 02/13/2007

The Number 23 (2007)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sum Nerve

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Number 23 would have us believe that the number 23 is everywhere. Right away we're in trouble.

It is director Joel Schumacher's twentieth film and star Jim Carrey's twenty-seventh (give or take, whether or not you consider cameos, TV movies, etc.).

First-time screenwriter Fernley Phillips riddles his screenplay with examples, such as that Charles Manson was sentenced on April 19 and that Ted Bundy was executed on the January 23rd. If you consider that April is the fourth month and add it to the 19, you get 23. But apparently, if the date is the 23rd, no addition is necessary. (The movie opens on February 23, which makes 25.)

It gets even more complicated when it comes to words. You can't just add up the number of letters in a word; you have to go through the alphabet and count each letter's position. For example, A=1, B=2. If your name is Ignatz, it comes out to 9+7+14+1+20+26, which adds up to 77. Math nuts will further add 7+7 to get 14 and then 1+4 to get 5.

It's very difficult to show all this in a movie. Say Carrey stands on a corner and we see a portion of one address and a portion of another on two buildings behind him, and we only have a couple of seconds to add them all up in our heads. Is an average audience member fast enough to do it? Does it mean anything?

And more importantly, what does this all have to do with murder? Zero, as it turns out. Basically, the movie's big idea is that the number can drive people crazy enough to kill someone.

Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, a dogcatcher that looks forward to coming home to his wife, Agatha (Virginia Madsen) and teenage son Robin (Logan Lerman). One night, he gets a call to chase a stray, which bites him. The bite causes him to be late, which causes his wife to browse in a bookstore. She randomly picks up a red-covered book and buys it.

Walter becomes obsessed with the book, whose lead character is a detective named Fingerling (played by Carrey in "flashbacks"). The number 23 comes up in connection to a suicide, and Walter begins to suspect that the book's author may have murdered someone in real life. Worse, he begins to wonder whether he, himself may be driven to murder.

This gives Carrey a chance to feverishly scribble numbers and notes everywhere, and if you're going to make a movie about a crazy person, Carrey's your man. In a free-spirited flight of fancy, he's mesmerizing. But as the movie gets closer to unveiling its big secrets, it becomes more grounded, more plot-heavy and less interesting. Worse, the twists don't really make much sense in terms of setup and payoff.

Director Schumacher doesn't seem to know what's going on either, as if, like the audience, he can't make the figures add up. Schumacher is capable of great surprises from time to time, such as his stark, angry Falling Down (1993), his lithe, gritty Tigerland (2000) and his remarkably compact Phone Booth (2003).

But other times, he appears as a chameleon, trying to tune in to whatever seems fashionable at the moment. In the 1980s, he made movies with bright colors and lots of hair product, and today he makes them dark and twitchy, like Tom Tykwer or Christopher Nolan's films.

Yet it seems like more of a dishonest disguise than a stylistic choice. On the other hand, Darren Aronofsky's Pi (1998) concocted a coherent, twisty, and yet entirely logical thriller out of the mystery of 3.14 -- which indeed seems like more of a natural enigma than a paranoid, man-made conspiracy theory. Schumacher just doesn't strike one as a numbers kind of guy.

Even so, The Number 23 gets a bit farther with math theory than cuddly movies like Good Will Hunting, A Beautiful Mind or Proof that celebrated mathematicians without getting their hands dirty on actual digits. For its trouble, it deserves 2.3 stars out of four. Oops. The Number 23
Best Buy Co, Inc.