Less Than Zero
Silly, dreary thriller doesn’t add up
BY JASON BLAIR
THE NUMBER 23: Directed by Joel Schumacher. Written by Fernley Phillips. Cinematography, Matthew Libatique. Music, Harry Gregson-Williams. Starring Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Danny Huston and Rhona Mitra. New Line Cinema, 2007. R. 95 minutes.
|Jim Carrey’s understanding of intertextuality becomes all too apparent
Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) has life by the tail. Literally: Walter is a dog-catcher. By night, he’s cradled by his beautiful wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) and worshipped by a son (Logan Lerman) who actually seems to take him seriously. Walter might appear a little warped at times, a little frayed around the edges — this is Jim Carrey we’re talking about — but nothing has prepared him for the journey into madness that awaits. I’m not talking about the book that’s ruining his life. I’m talking about starring in a Joel Schumacher film.
Maddeningly inconsistent, Schumacher has perfected an opposite-poles approach to filmmaking, alternating taut films (Tigerland, Falling Down) with floppy disappointments (Dying Young, Phantom of the Opera). His duds don’t just fall flat: They explode careers, bank accounts, even bulletproof franchises. Schumacher is widely (and perhaps unfairly) blamed for ruining the first Batman cycle, his Batman and Robin giving off such a graveyard stench that you were justified asking for your money back. (In fact, Randal does exactly that after watching the film in Clerks: The Animated Series.)
In The Number 23, Schumacher hits an all-time low, nearly taking down several talented performers with him. Carrey does his best in this supernatural thriller as a man who’s convinced a little red book is writing his life. But he fails to give off the skepticism or doubt that might make later events more convincing. He’s hooked, right from the go. Madsen is perfectly cast as Carrey’s sunny, stable opposite; she’s the tiny voice of reason in the crashing house of mirrors, but she winds up looking bored with it all. The phenomenal Danny Huston (The Proposition) shows up for good measure, but he’s wasted here. They all are.
Since it’s contractually required, I’ll give you the thumbnail sketch: Confident that a mysterious book is telling a darker version of his life story, Walter sets out to find the reclusive author, uncovering all kinds of secrets in the process. Schumacher relies too heavily on editing and art direction to create the mood and tension the muddling script sorely lacks. The technique fails him utterly. The Number 23 zigs and zags between two narratives — Walter’s implosion and a comic-book dramatization of the mystery book — until, just for good measure, Walter’s nightmares take center stage. Fold in a mysterious dog, a creepy priest and a neglected cemetery — not to mention your standard abandoned insane asylum — and you have one of the weakest films of the new year.
All my teasing of Schumacher aside, without his missteps we wouldn’t have Batman Begins. But whereas The Number 23 could have been an average psychological mystery, instead it’s a jumbled mess. The Number 23 is too slight, for all of its suggestive imagery — Carrey looks like Bigfoot on the promotional poster — and ends in a resolution so disappointing you may elect not to suffer through it. That’s because Schumacher appends a filmed postscript summarizing everything you already don’t care about. If you happen to see this film and you make it to the end, you should be given some kind of ribbon for endurance. Most of you will already be outside breathing deeply, grateful for the release from the horrible failure that is The Number 23.