Review: The Number 23

Published 8 years ago by , Updated February 9th, 2012 at 9:16 pm,

By Brian Rentschler

Short version: This movie drives an already silly premise straight into the ground, primarily with a weak script and uneven direction.

number23 Review: The Number 23I have been a big fan of Jim Carrey ever since the premiere of my all-time favorite TV show, In Living Color. I mean, what could be better than his Fire Marshal Bill skits? The original Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber are movies that I am proud to count among my all-time favorite comedies. Jim Carrey is one of the finest comedic actors I have seen on the big or small screen, but I really don’t know what on earth could have interested him in The Number 23. Maybe I don’t want to know… He’s not going for comedy in this movie; he’s going for a dramatic performance. That’s understandable to some degree; he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into doing only physical comedy. He has certainly shown that he has some range; The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are two examples that come to mind. But the two aforementioned examples are good movies, and The Number 23 is not.

Joel Schumacher’s movies have always been hit-or-miss for me. I really liked Falling Down, but Batman and Robin was a stinkbomb. Veronica Guerin was well-made (albeit morbid), but Phone Booth was underwhelming. His directing style in this movie is uneven; some parts are hokey and overblown, while others seem to be just right. Overall, the problem is that the weak script (written by Fernley Phillips) just doesn’t give him much to work with. There is plenty of talent and technical competence on display here; it’s just utilized in the wrong way.

Almost from the first frame, this movie lets the viewer know that weird things are happening. Walter Sparrow (played by Jim Carrey) is an animal control officer who tries to catch a stray dog. He does that kind of thing all the time, but somehow he ends up being bitten by the dog. He tries to catch the same dog a little later, but the dog disappears after he chases it into a cemetery.

Movie cliché #827: Strange things always happen in cemeteries.

While he is talking to his wife Agatha (played by Virginia Madsen) about the incident, she mentions to him that she has come across an interesting book. It’s called The Number 23, and it’s by an unknown author named Topsy Kretts. Walter quickly becomes engrossed in the book, written from a first-hand perspective about a detective named Fingerling (played by Jim Carrey). There is a suicide blonde (quite literally) who causes Fingerling’s life to take a turn for the worse, mainly because of her obsession with the number 23. Anytime she sees the two numbers forwards, backwards or in a combination that can be added up to 23, she goes farther and farther off the deep end. Fingerling quickly develops the same obsession with the number 23, and that obsession starts to have an effect on his life. In particular, it affects his relationship with his girlfriend, Fabrizia (played by Virginia Madsen), who ends up leaving him for his colleague, Dr. Miles Phoenix (played by Danny Huston). Fabrizia soon turns up dead, and through an unfortunate series of events, Dr. Phoenix takes the fall for the murder even though he’s innocent.

As Walter reads through the book, he is astonished by the similarities between Fingerling and himself — details about his upbringing, details about his current life, etc. He goes to talk to Professor Isaac French (played by Danny Huston), who is a friend of the family. Professor French explains that the person who wrote the book is undoubtedly someone who knows Walter, and that the number 23 has actually had a great deal of significance throughout history. At this point, Walter realizes he is becoming obsessed with the number 23 himself. His relationship with his wife begins to suffer, and he starts having nightmares about her being murdered. Their son Robin (played by Logan Lerman) realizes that he may have found a way to get in contact with the author of the book, and Walter figures out that by circling every 23rd word on every 23rd page, he can reveal a message that could give him all the answers he is seeking. But will he be able to figure everything out before his obsession with the number 23 completely destroys his life?

The main problem with this movie is the script. Being obsessed with a particular number is just a hokey, silly premise in the first place. In the hands of the right people, I suppose it might have been possible to develop a compelling storyline, but this movie doesn’t help the viewer get to know the characters well enough for the story to be truly scary and creepy. The reason behind the obsession with the number 23 is explained (sort of), but it’s hardly a revelation. There were also a surprising number of details and story developments that I thought were pertinent to what was revealed at the end, but they only turned out to be red herrings. I can tolerate a few red herrings in a story if there is a bigger payoff at the end, but that didn’t happen here. The way the whole story was told and the way the ending was revealed just didn’t work for me; the big payoff wasn’t there.

Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen and Danny Huston are all capable actors. Each of them has done work over the years that is worth seeing, but not in this movie. They seem to be doing the best they can with the material they have, but without a strong script, even the best actors on the planet would have a tough time pulling things out of the gutter. Overall, I didn’t find the movie very scary, suspenseful or compelling. The ending was not predictable enough for me to guess, but I still felt underwhelmed and frustrated after the movie was over. Jim Carrey has shown that he can do more than just maniacal comedy, but he can do better than The Number 23.

Our Rating:

1.5 out of 5
(Poor, A Few Good Parts)

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  1. Great review, thanks Brian! I’m glad I didn’t have to sit throught that one. :-)


  2. The Number 23 is the story of Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) and how his wife’s (Virginia Madsen) purchase of a book causes him to become obsessed with the #23. The book follows Fingerling (Jim Carrey) a detective and how his investigation into a suicide also makes him become obsessed with the number 23. Walter becomes convinced that the book is somehow linked to his life and to a murder. He will stop at nothing until he figures everything out, the end result just isn’t what he hopes for and as a paying member of the audience this movie wasn’t what I had hoped for either.

    Often when you are at the theater you get the opportunity to see a preview that really grabs your attention and makes you take notice. The Number 23 was one of those movies. They made it seem that this movie would deal with supernatural powers and how the 23 has some sort of link to all the bad events that have happened in the world. Instead we get a boring, drawn out, unrealistic and crappy movie.

    The fact that the movie ends with [spoiler deleted] was so dumb it is barely worth mentioning. It is important to mention that all of the [expletive deleted] that happens on screen is so unrealistic that at the end of the movie you get comments like the one Ken said to me when we were leaving “Yes, that could have all happened.” And honestly that statement pretty much sums up the movie.

    Questions I may never get answers to… What was the point of the dog NED besides his name equated to 23? What does the number 32 have to do with a movie named The Number 23? Many times during the movie 32 is referenced with everything being explained with “Well that is 23 backwards”. Oh that makes perfect senses. So someday if I take a test and the answer to one of the questions is 23 and I write down 32 I should get the answer right because after all 32 is just 23 backwards. I am kind of surprised that they didn’t make some sort of reference that Walter Sparrow made $28888 a year because after all if you divide 28888 by 1256 you get 23 (This is the kind of random number crap that comes up all the time in this movie). [Spoilers deleted]

    The movie kind of started off to be interesting but then it took a quick nose dive from there. I would not recommend going to see this movie. Maybe renting it, maybe…like if you were really drunk and the movie rental place was out of everything and you got it for free and you were on a date with Kate Beckinsale and she said she would sleep with you if you would sit through this two hour long piece of crap then yes by all means rent it.

  3. Sorry you subjected yourself to it even after reading Brian’s review. :-)


  4. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.