Book Smarts 

'The Number 23' is entertaining--despite the presence of Joel Schumacher

Before going to see The Number 23, I checked out its rating on rottentomatoes.com. Yeah, I know, I'm not supposed to do that, but screw it; I was bored. Anyway, the film is shaping up to be one of the year's worst-reviewed movies, getting a mere 9 percent on the site. Therefore, I figured the movie would be a return to garbage for director Joel Schumacher.

But good god, I actually liked this screwball of a mystery-thriller. Yes, it's preposterous, but films need to be preposterous nowadays to pull the wool over savvy audiences' eyes. The Number 23 kept me involved, looks pretty good and managed to fool me more than once.

Once again, I'm giving a positive review to a Schumacher film. Perhaps I am losing my freaking mind.

Jim Carrey, in dramatic-serious mode, plays Walter Sparrow, a dogcatcher who gets a strange book from his wife (Virginia Madsen) on his birthday. The book is some sort of twisted murder-mystery, featuring a fixation with the number 23. As he reads further into the book, he begins to channel the book's obsession with the number, counting its appearances in his own life (his birthday, the date he met his wife ... etc.). He also begins identifying and seeing himself as Fingerling, the novel's tattooed, scruffy private investigator. Murderous nightmares and crazy coincidences ensue.

The film starts out as more of a meditation on the number 23, but then it spirals into a murder-mystery that seems to have an obvious conclusion at first, but then takes some surprising twists and turns.

I'm not going to say this is some sort of classic film we're talking about here, but it is competent and entertaining. There are a couple of sequences that are a little confusing, but I'm going to give the film a pass for those.

Carrey is in fine form here, essentially playing two characters (Sparrow in the present and Fingerling in the dream sequences). He captures a level of twitchiness that never becomes irritating, and keeps Sparrow sympathetic, no matter how crazy he gets. The sight of him painted up in tattoos is sort of funny, but that only amounts to a few seconds of movie time. Madsen, thankfully still experiencing a career resurgence, does nice work in the dual roles of Sparrow's wife and Fingerling's femme fatale, Fabrizia. Her character is required to perform some of the film's best acting, and she's certainly capable.

Schumacher is up to some of his old tricks, overdoing it in spots with the stylistic stuff. However, his overall directorial style this time out is surprisingly subdued. The film is "earthy" considering the man helming it. Schumacher normally goes for those overly lit, multicolored sets that assault the eyes. Here, he allows things to get darker. It's probably his best-looking film since The Lost Boys.

The film looks great. It's shot with a washed-out tint by Matthew Libatique, and this man is becoming a giant of the craft. He's worked the camera for all of Darren Aronofsky's feature-length films (including last year's best film, The Fountain). He also shot Josie and the Pussycats, but I'll go ahead and forgive him for that.

There's been some complaining from critics about the film's ending. I think they're complaining because the movie made them feel like idiots. Credit goes to the screenwriters for fashioning a film that is as confusing as it should be, yet ties together well in the end.

So there you go--a review of a Schumacher film with minimal bile from me. I feel somewhat defeated in finding enjoyment in his latest films. I still hate you, Joel Schumacher, but I am now willing to confess that you are capable of making movies that don't totally blow.

Once again, just to make things clear, I still hate you.

The Number 23
Rated NR

More by Bob Grimm


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