The Last time Jim Carrey and Joel Shumacher teamed up to make a movie, we got Batman Forever, the film that began the downward spiral of an entire franchise. That is, until the franchise was later reinvented by Christopher Nolan. The last time Jim Carrey ventured away from his trademarked brand of comedy, we saw brilliance in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So what would happen when Shumacher and Carrey team up again, this time to make a drama about a man’s plunge into obsession and paranoia. Well, you get a film that is more on the Eternal Sunshine side of the spectrum, at least momentarily.
The film starts out as the harmless tale of Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey), an arid middle aged family man whose greatest source of adventure is tracking down animals as a member of the local pest control office. Happily married with a wife (Virginia Madsen) and a son (Logan Lerman), Walter has as little reason for stress as he does adventure. That is, until one night when he comes across a book titled The Number 23. The book tells the story of Fingerling (also played by Carrey), a rogue detective whose world is turned upside down by the coincidental nature of the number 23, a nature that has brought murder and suicide to anyone it plagues. As Walter reads the book, he realizes that he and Fingerling are not unlike each other, but are eerily similar in many ways. He begins to draw parallels between what should seem like a fictional world and his own reality, sliding him deep into a state of paranoia.
That state of paranoia is what drives the film to a level of creepy that will make your skin crawl. A well cast Jim Carrey takes his character from homely to homicidal in mere moments as Walter’s world begins to corrode at the hands of a number. Carrey’s usual brand of theatrics are missing as he honkers down and aptly shows us a character whose thoughts are twisted and who is losing his grip on reality. Virginia Madsen plays his wife, who goes almost blindly along with the paranoia as Walter begins to think that the murders happening in the book may have happened in real life.
As it turns out, the murders did happen in real life, just not quite as Walter would initially figure. The whole thing is just one big twist and turn away from being an utter shock-fest. The only problem is that the film never takes that last step and The Number 23 falls victim to the fact that it must explain its own twisted logic. Joel Shumacher, showing us what he does best and then showing us why we hate half of his movies, shows no restraint in the story telling, allowing the film to drone on about how the number 23 is a mark of evil and that its coincidental nature will drive someone to murder.
In the end, we get a film that draws us in for the first 80 minutes only to let us down in the last 15. We are sucked into a terrifying and intense story then we are given an ending that just doesn’t fit. Think about the most suspenseful flick you have ever seen, and then picture it with a docile, chipper ending. That is what you get if you see The Number 23. Had the director pushed the razor sharp edge of the film all the way to the end, we would be interested. Unfortunately for us, he didn’t. My recommendation, go see this one in theaters, just leave with 15 minutes to go.
The Number 23 has a running time of 95 minutes and is rated R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality and language.