Movie Review 2007 #85: The Number 23

A movie starring Jim Carrey and Virginia Madsen.


My birthdate is October 5, 1971. 10+5+7+1=23!
I wanted to like this movie. I do like Jim Carrey, ever since he moved away from the goofiness of his early career and started trying things different. And who doesn’t love the original Princess Irulan? And a movie featuring numbers. I thought that despite the very negative reviews (8% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Ouch!), I might like this movie.
I was so very wrong.
Jim Carrey stars as animal control expert Walter Sparrow. Married to a beautiful wife, with a son, although his job is often dull, he has a decent life. All of this changes, though, when, late in meeting his wife, she picks up a strange little book in the bookstore “The Number 23, a Novel of Obsession by Topsy Kretts” as a gift for Walter.
And so this book, once Walter starts reading it, draws Walter into obsession regarding the book in specific, and the number 23 in general. He sees the number everywhere, in its original form and reversed. His waking thoughts are wrapped around the number, just like the main character, Fingerling, in the book (also portrayed by Carrey) also has become infected. Carrey continually sees more and more parallels between himself and Fingerling. And when Fingerling commits a murder, Sparrow becomes convinced he will do a murder himself.
In the midst of this his wife attempts to keep Walter mentally afloat, but, and not very well established, his son begins to share the obsession, too.
There are some things to like about this movie. As the threads within the book and real life begin to merge, their very different cinematography begins to merge, as if Walter is entering Fingerling’s world. Madsen does a fairly good job.
However, the center of this movie cannot and does not hold. Carrey does not convincingly portray a man descending into madness. His descent is inadvertently funny, and this kills a lot of the dramatic momentum. A better actor who could handle a descent into madness, say, Sam Neill (eg In the Mouth of Madness, Event Horizon) would have vastly improved this movie. With the center so badly miscast, the movie just does not hold up. The plot twist at the end is fairly predictable, but, again, once its revealed, the histories of Sparrow and Fingerling just don’t add up. We’re left with more questions than answers.
I so wanted to like this movie, but I couldn’t quite manage it.

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