The Number 23
There is no doubt that numbers define our lives. We gauge our success by the numbers in our pay checks, we schedule our lives by the calendar and we measure our lives in days, months and years. For some people numbers hold an even more influential factor. These people find significance in numbers beyond what is generally considered normal. Numerology has been around for thousands of years and persists in this modern world. The film, ‘The Number 23’ uses this as the basis for a thriller that just doesn’t thrill. In numerology calculation are made to come up with a set of numbers that define aspects of your lives. I work with statistics everyday and know well that you can pretty much make up calculations to get just about any answer you require. This is the major problem with this film. The way the number 23 pops up every place is forced and contrived. Now conspiracy theories can make for some pretty good films. Here the audience’s ability to suspend belief is pushed past any reasonable limit. The trouble with a flick based on a gimmick is you have to believe it. In something like ‘Groundhog Day’ a single day repeating was more realistic than what is offered up here.
The film focuses on Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey), a rather normal man who is employed as animal control officer. His wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) runs a cake shop and the couple has a son, Robin (Logan Lerman). The normalcy of this family is soon to be disrupted with a set of seemingly innocent events. It is the end of his work day when Walter is called to capture a loose dog, Ned. Just when Walter is about to get the dog he is distracted and the dog bites him. He runs off to a cemetery and sits on the grave of Laura Tollins. This causes Walter to be late meeting his wife. While she is waiting she goes into a used book store and winds up buying on called "The Number 23" by Topsy Kretts. Walter begins to read it and is immediately obsessed by it. The book is about a detective named ‘Fingerling’ who has a lot in common with Walter. For one thing the name comes from a children’s book that Walter also owns. As Walter continues to read he is pulled into the mystery of a character called the ‘Suicide Blonde’. She has an obsession with the number 23. She finds the number everywhere, in dates, names and just about all aspects of her life. She winds up killing her boyfriend and then herself. Walter starts to play around with similar calculations and finds that the number 23 in his life. His social security number adds up to 23, his name converts to 23 and even his address fits the pattern. Needing advice he turns to a friend of his wife’s, Dr. Isaac French (Danny Huston). Continuing his investigation Walter returns to the book store and discovers that the work was published and printed by the author and that it was his only book. Evens in the book lead Walter to suspect that French has less than innocent designs on his wife. He also thinks the number 23 is cursed since two divided by three is .6666666 which is the sign of the beast in the Bible. Actually that is the decimal of the beast but that is beside the point. Walter then starts looking into the death of Laura Tollins. She died on 23rd birthday, how convenient. He also comes to the conclusion that the author’s name, Topsy Kretts, is actually code for ‘Top Secrets’. He even finds hidden messages in the book by taking the 23rd word of every 23rd page. It sort of reminded me of playing Beatles records backwards in the seventies. The mystery continues with life imitating the book and 23 popping up everywhere.
A film that touts itself with such terms as ‘mystery’, ‘thriller’ and ‘suspense’ would be best served if it actually possessed any of these qualities. It is difficult to have a mystery if everything is telegraphed long before the ‘big reveal’. The pedantic script offers little if any chance to build suspense or even provide a thrill or two. The director if this opus, Joel Schumacher, has had his share of, shall we say, less than stellar flicks. You might recall a couple of Batman flicks for example but he also created such cult classics as ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ and ‘the Lost Boys’. That is to say he has talent in his field but it just doesn’t come across here. The pace plods along. The transition of Walter has he descends into his compulsion just isn’t believable. The constant references to the number 23 get to the point of being annoying. It also pushes the number too far. After all the earth is on a 23.5 degree axis not 23, but that is just a rounding problem I guess. A big red flag should be raised with the use of the pun, ‘Topsy Kretts’. If you are going to make a conspiracy flick then the basic premise has to be somewhat realistic, something sorely lacking here. Schumacher attempts to make up for the lack of substance with style. The use of color held some promise but has been seen too often. Using a sepia filters in the flashback scenes has been overdone and has little emotional effect here. There is an economy here in the direction but the premise overwhelms any hope the execution may have.
I do have to give credit to Jim Carrey. He has earned his spot as one of the best, wackiest comedians of his generation and he is trying to broaden his talent as an actor. By taking on more dramatic roles and playing against type he is giving it a try. Unfortunately, his choice of vehicle here is not one that will advance his aspirations. He has the ability to portray a man giving in to his paranoia to the point of madness. Virginia Madsen is an actress of great ability who has the difficult task of being the emotional foundation of this movie. Try as she might the script simply does not afford her much to showcase what she is capable of doing.
To there credit New Line Home Entertainment give the best possible transfer to DVD. The anamorphic video is very well done with an accurate reproduction of the colors the director employs. The Dolby 5.1 audio has a full, sweeping sound field that will pull you in. This film may not be the best representative of its genre but is good for a Saturday afternoon as a beer and pizza flick with friends.