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Director Joel Schumacher can go from great (Tigerland), to very good (Falling Down), to classic nostalgia (The Lost Boys), to utter garbage (Batman & Robin). When I hear that he has directed something new, I usually begin with a cringe before checking out the new trailer. The Number 23, however, started its advertisement with an interesting premise, great cast, and finally the Schumacher stamp of unknowingness. I didn’t care that much, thinking that this could definitely go in the great category and cement a change for the better in his oeuvre, starting with his trilogy of Colin Farrell films to 2004’s rock-infused Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately the film ended up falling flat in many instances. I’m not sure though, how much of that fault lies in the director’s hands. The acting is top-notch, the visuals are stunning, and the change in mood from present, fiction, and reality is deftly handled. Maybe the trouble is the average script used, which includes the oldest twist in the book, that couldn’t be saved even is Kubrick came back from the dead to take a stab at it.

The Number 23 is about a man that becomes obsessed with a book about a detective and his descent into the world of coincidence the number creates. Walter Sparrow, (Jim Carrey), is confused by the many parallels to his own life that the nightcrawler Fingerling has, soon believing the novel was written specifically about him. Sparrow falls deeper and deeper into the number’s grasp until he must find out who the author is and see how the story really ends before he becomes Fingerling himself. Schumacher tells the story through three intertwining plotlines: Sparrow’s life and reading of the novel, Fingerling’s journey through the starkly contrasted film noir world, and the reality of what these two paths crossing means. The transformations our three principle actors make between the environments are stunning and well constructed. Carrey and Virginia Madsen are completely two different people when playing Walter/Fingerling and Agatha/Fabrizia respectively. Besides the lighting and filtering of the film stock (the film noir world is stunning to look at with its over-exposed aesthetic and hard-boiled detective undertones), the performances are complete opposites of each other. Whereas Walter and Agatha live a perfect suburban life, normal jobs and good parenting, Fingerling and Fabrizia are creatures of debauchery and self-confidence, slithering through a land of crime and darkness with one another’s sexual company as an escape from it all. Madsen’s entrance to a She Wants Revenge song (which I learned was picked by music connoisseur Carrey) is remarkably bold and sets the tone for how different the two worlds really are.

While the film had this darkness to it, and you wanted there to be a tragic ending fitting to the mood that had been built up to, you end up getting an exposition scene explaining all the events that transpired along with the most obvious plot twist Hollywood uses almost once a month. It is a real shame that the ending had to be such a whimper compared to the fast-paced, paranoia-infused beginning and middle. The script just didn’t seem polished enough or smart enough to take a chance on a conclusion that stuck to what the film as a whole was trying to accomplish, in my opinion at least. You also had the character of Isaac French, (the great Danny Huston), become wasted space. There was so much that could have been done with him to create more tension between the Sparrows with his “is he cheating with the wife or isn’t he?” thread. The alter ego Dr. Phoenix was, however, a delight, no matter how brief he was actually on screen. With a little more time and fine-tuning, this film could have been very enjoyable, but instead it ultimately ends up being a nicely acted and shot, mediocre thriller.

The Number 23 6/10

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photography:
[1] Virginia Madsen (left) stars as “Fabrizia” and Jim Carrey (right) stars as “Fingerling” in New Line Cinema’s release of Joel Schumacher’s THE NUMBER 23. Photo Credit: ©2007 Christine Loss/New Line Cinema

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