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"A cop out of chaotic inconsequence."
"Carrey's Fingerling is hollow, distant, and unconvincing."
"Stretches the truth to inexplicable levels - levels without any kind of synchronicity whatsoever."
The Number 23  

Cast

Walter Sparrow: Jim Carrey
Agatha Sparrow: Virgina Madsen
Robin Sparrow: Logan Lerman
Isaac French: Danny Huston
Suicide Blonde: Lynn Collins
Laura Tollins: Rhona Mitra
Review February 2007

The 23 Enigma. A chaos belief that links all incidents and events to the number 23. For example, each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to the DNA of a child, Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times when he was assassinated, and the Mayans believe the world will end on December 23, 2012. Such beliefs have a notorious downside - the possibility of obsession, dementia, and insanity. All of which come in to play in director Joel Schumacher's "The Number 23," whereby a young man's life falls prey to a strange and obscure book. A book that appears to be based on the man's own unique experiences, one that makes startling conclusions about the future, and one that ties everything to the number 23. Starring Jim Carrey as the obsessive Walter Sparrow, "The Number 23" begins with an intriguing premise, drawing vast conclusions based on numerical coincidence. As it jostles between fact and fiction, it builds tremendous suspense and sophistication; however, in doing so, it stretches the limits of the theory, setting the bar so high that the end result is a cop out of chaotic inconsequence.

Walter Sparrow works as an animal control officer who lives with his cake shop owning wife, Agatha, and his teenage son, Robin. One day, after a painful encounter with a vicious dog named Ned, Walter catches up with his wife at a local bookstore. Since it happens to be Walter's birthday, Agatha decides to purchase a book that she's been eyeing while waiting for him, a book called The Number 23 . Not really much of a reader, Walter decides to give the book a shot after being given an unplanned vacation day from work. After only a few pages, Walter gets hooked. And after a few chapters, he begins to notice something strange. Unmistakably, the book parallels Walter's very own childhood.

Narrating the life of a young man named Fingerling who grows up to become a detective, the book depicts his lustful relationship with a woman named Fabrizia and a mystery involving a character known only as The Suicide Blonde. Within the confines of the mystery is an elaborate obsession with the number 23, whereby life and death are dictated in uncontrollable ways. Such obsession rubs off on Walter, who also becomes enraptured by the power of the number 23. In fact, he begins to have nightmares and fantasies about the future. And eventually, he seeks out the anonymous author and any one who is able to help him understand the book's hidden meanings. Fraught with danger but assisted by his wife and son, Walter uncovers a frightening truth that has repercussions for all.

Coincidence or not? The 23 Enigma can be found in all kinds of modern and historical works, some intentional, others not. From bands like Tool and Spiral Tribe to August Diehl's "23" to Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," whereby Sydney Carton becomes the 23rd person executed by guillotine. And while many other numbers have been linked to unusual circumstances, like the numbers 13 and 17, what makes 23 special is that it is a prime number, easily divisible to arrive at another prime number. And it consists of the lowest two prime digits, 2 and 3. Mind willing, you can make many more connections. In humans, the 23rd chromosome determines gender, there are 23 letters in the Latin alphabet, the Knights Templar had 23 Grand Masters, and the Titanic sank the morning of April 15th, 1912 (the sum of which equals 23). All of these, however, are more or less the result of the mind attempting to synergize or find truths where they do not exist - a phenomenon commonly referred to as "Apophenia" or seeing patterns and connections in random or meaningless data.

Strangely enough, "The Number 23" represents the 23rd project Joel Schumacher has directed. Known for his flamboyant style and versatility, Schumacher has found commercial and critical success with such hits as "St. Elmo's Fire," "The Lost Boys," "A Time to Kill," "Veronica Guerin," and "The Phantom of the Opera," which earned him three Academy Award nominations. And it's precisely Schumacher's style and versatility that makes "The Number 23" highly engaging fare. In the film, Schumacher's vision is pulsating and seductive, particularly as we delve into the dark side of Fingerling and Fabrizia. Dressed in black and covered in tattoos, we see a different side of Jim Carrey, one that is edgy and chaotic. And counterbalancing that with the ethereal, deadly white out that represents The Suicide Blonde allows us to distinguish the fictionalized world of Topsy Kretts.

Yet, in spite of Schumacher's attempts to piece the symbols together visually, the film suffers greatly at the hand of the screenplay. Written by first time British scripter, Fernley Phillips, "The Number 23" devours the enigma with passion, but at the expense of its characters. Scene after scene, the characters become secondary to the phenomenon, lacking in development, background, and motivation. For instance, there's no real logic and depth behind characters like Robin Sparrow or Isaac French. Instead of moving things forward or exuding unique personality and behavior, they exist as supporting placeholders.

From a writing perspective, this is reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village," a film that was high in concept, but poor in execution. A film that promised more than it could deliver. And after delivering its ultimate surprise, one could only groan in disappointment. Like "The Village," "The Number 23" spends a great deal of time toward the end, explaining a botched delivery - an ill-conceived, highly unlikely finale where relationships forge ahead without emotion or explanation.

In a bit of irony, Jim Carrey once more plays the role of a pet detective, a la Ace Ventura. But a more somber one. His character, Walter Sparrow, is a normal guy with normal desires but who becomes obsessed after reading about a detective named Fingerling, who seems to have the same life history. Walter is the pleasant personality while Fingerling is the troublesome side. And pleasant is something that Carrey can do very well as his forays into serious dramatic roles like "The Truman Show" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" have shown. However, the character of Fingerling demands a high degree of callousness. And instead, comes across too sincere. Perhaps this is a result of Carrey's prior experiences on the dark side, as Count Olaf in "Lemony Snicket" or the Riddler in "Batman Forever," where he first met Schumacher? Because in each of those outings, his characters were evil with a comedic undertone. And here, without that undertone, Carrey's Fingerling is hollow, distant, and unconvincing.

As the 23 Enigma relates a fascinating premise, so too does "The Number 23" - that all things under the sun can be derived in some shape or form from the number 23. But because of porous character development, the film ends without conviction or conclusion. Maybe it's the result of the 23's fallacy, a self-fulfilling prophecy that allows the mind to believe anything it wants to and stretch the truth to compensate? For even with engaging film techniques by Joel Schumacher, "The Number 23" loses momentum. It sets off on a unique journey, investigating and exploring numerology and coincidence with visual panache, but when the going gets tough and the details become ambiguous, it stretches the truth to inexplicable levels - levels without any kind of synchronicity whatsoever.



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