A stupid premise and a witless execution of it sum up “The Number 23,” which presents us with a mountain of middling coincidences surrounding the title integer. Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times. An individual’s 46 chromosomes include 23 from each parent. Devilishly speaking, you get .666 when you divide the 2 by the 3. Mind-blowing stuff, thinks this movie.
An impossible proposition, this purported psychological thriller is directed by Joel Schumacher, who, with credits like “Falling Down,” “8MM,” and “Batman and Robin,” is hardly a master of emotional dimension. Schumacher can sometimes deliver a plot point potently, but first-time screenwriter Fernley Phillips gives him merely a preposterous gimmick to put forward.
Jim Carrey, operating on dramatic turf, plays Walter Sparrow, an unassuming animal-control officer whose wife (Virginia Madsen) gives him anovel whose scenarios eerily resemble his life. Walter is affected by its central character, a noirish detective named Fingerling (also played by Carrey), and, like Fingerling, he becomes obsessed with the number 23. He sees it everywhere — on clocks, on hotel doors, in birthdates — and believes it to be fateful. His fixation lands him in dangerous, murderous waters and sparks the surfacing of a dark secret.
Save for the film’s stylish look (a Schumacher strength) and an almost-amusing bit involving a dog-bite counselor, this movie’s a dumb idea stretched into 95 minutes of incoherence. The parallel dramas, which feature elements ranging from a femme fatale (also Madsen) to a hostile canine, contain moments of snazzy flash, but the complete picture’s a muddle. Scripter Phillips seems so captivated by the 23 factor that he lets this insipid element eclipse character definition. The whodunit resolution is ludicrous.
Carrey, meanwhile, who’s previously been decent in dramatic mode (in “Man on the Moon,” for example), doesn’t convey Walter’s angst resonantly enough to give the film a compelling protagonist. Perhaps if a deeper paranoid-thriller maker like Jonathan Demme or David Fincher had directed him, instead of Schumacher, he’d be stronger. Yet it’s hard to imagine any actor triumphing when waxing awestruck about things like an Oct. 13 wedding date (10 + 13 = 23!).
The film also includes wasted turns by Madsen, again cast as a loving spouse, and from Danny Huston, whose best-friend character is given a sinister air, apparently so we’ll think he’s the killer.
Enough said. Anyone with an IQ higher than, yep, you guessed it, won’t be wowed.
The Number 23 *½
Starring Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Danny Huston
Written by Fernley Phillips
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Running time1 hour, 35 minutes