By Kenzie Love
Here’s a coincidence: The Number 23 is the twenty-third movie or television series Jim Carrey has appeared in since 1991. Okay, maybe it’s not, considering he appeared in 15 of them before then, but it’s strikingly similar to the absurd lengths Joel Schumacher goes to convince viewers that this is a number people should be worried about. The number 13, he believes, has terrorized western civilization too long: it’s 23 that should be keeping people awake at night. Sadly, that’s something that neither the number nor the movie is able to accomplish.
Carrey deserves just as much of the blame for the film’s failure. He’s earned some acclaim for his skills as a comedian in recent years and even some real filmic clout from The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Unfortunately for the movie-going public, The Number 23 reveals that he’s still pretty inept when he isn’t under Michel Gondry’s tutalage. At one point, his character Walter Sparrow dreams that he finds his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) lying dead in a pool of blood on their bed. It’s clear that Walter’s supposed to be devastated at her discovery, but Carrey can only muster a put-off expression.
Even a far greater actor would have struggled in the role given the film’s premise. This is Madsen’s fate–unlike Carrey she can act, but doesn’t have much of an opportunity to do so in Schumacher’s abomination. Audiences are supposed to believe that there’s something horrifying about the number 23, but as another character astutely observes after Sparrow has become obsessed with it: “You’re looking for 23, so you’re going to find it.” It’s odd, but screenwriter Fernley Phillips seems to have built his modus operandi into the dialouge here. Why he chose this particular number, God only knows, but he probably could have done the same with any other, with equally lacklustre results. Perhaps there’s something kind of scary about the possibility that a person could become so obsessed with a number–or anything else that’s seemingly harmless–that it comes to dominate their life, but the film doesn’t explore this. Instead, it suggests that while Walter may indeed be crazy, he’s entirely sane in fearing the number 23.
According to the distribution chief for New Line, the film’s 15.1 million dollar opening last weekend was at the low end of the studio’s expectations, and some will no-doubt feel its subject had something to do with this dismal showing. In reality, though, The Number 23 was likely cursed with nothing more nefarious than a lousy script and incompetent leading man.