St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

Film review

Flaws too numerous to count

The Number 23 seems to have something for everyone - and that's not a good thing.

Published February 22, 2007


Cram a screenplay with numerology, paranoia, jealousy, depression, psychosis, suicide, amnesia, an unsolved murder and a cemetery-dwelling devil dog named Ned.

Tint with film-noir atmospherics and hyper-real flashbacks and inject a smarmy voiceover. Put a nuclear family at risk. Tack on a nominally happy ending. Bring to the project an actor in a hurry to overhaul his familiar screen persona and a commercially successful director perhaps gunning for critical kudos.

The result is The Number 23, an overproduced and badly miscast thriller with too few thrills.

Jim Carrey plays formerly mellow dog catcher Walter Sparrow, who is forced to confront an uncomfortable truth before he can be equipped with the emotional tools to re-emerge, relatively whole and healthy.

Carrey has successfully portrayed characters that experienced complex psychological journeys (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Truman Show). Both those films matched the comic actor's talents with smart, provocative scripts that traveled to surreal places but generally stayed true to the logic of the film.

In those films, Carrey also benefited from directors - Michel Gondry and Peter Weir, respectively - who are accomplished in eliciting first-rate performances.

That's not the case with Joel Schumacher (The Phantom of the Opera, Veronica Guerin), who was working from a script by rookie screenwriter Fernley Phillips. It's a mess, a montage of scenes and themes lifted from other, better movies. And the melodramatic last act is simply dreadful, an interminable demonstration of histrionics by Carrey and Virginia Madsen (Sideways), who ought to know better.

The action begins when Sparrow and his wife, Agatha, played by Madsen, bring home a book, The Number 23, from the ominously named store A Novel Fate. Sparrow begins to recognize aspects of his identity in the pulp novel's main character, a detective named Fingerling. And, like the P.I., he begins to obsess over the presence of the titular number on everything from his alarm clock to street signs.

Sparrow becomes lost in the book's parallel world, where Fingerling does battle with his own fixation on the number 23, and encounters various suicidal, exotic women; Schumacher's inability to flesh out "reality" before diving into fantasy is one of the film's fatal flaws.

Will Sparrow descend into madness? Carrey, and his director and screenwriter, simply don't have the goods to make viewers care.



The Number 23

Grade: D

Director: Joel Schumacher

Cast: Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Logan Lerman, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins

Screenplay: Fernley Phillips

Rating: R; violence, disturbing images, sensuality

Running time: 95 min.


[Last modified February 21, 2007, 14:04:13]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters