The Number 23
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Joel Schumacher
scr Fernley Phillips
with Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, Danny Huston, Logan Lerman, Mark Pellegrino, Lynn Collins, Rhona Mitra, Michelle Arthur, Ed Lauter, Patricia Belcher, Paul Butcher, David Stifel
release US/UK 23.Feb.07
07/US New Line 1h35
The Number 23
Nose to nose: Madsen and Carrey

carrey madsen huston
The 23 Enigma...
  • Each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to their child's DNA
  • The earth's axis is 23.5 degrees (5=2+3)
  • It takes 23 seconds for blood to circulate through the human body
  • Ancient Egyptian and Sumerian calendars begin on 23 July
  • The Mayans believed the world would end on 23 December 2012 (20+1+2=23)
The Number 23 There's enough style, intrigue and plot twistiness in this thriller to keep us watching, even though it never really becomes anything terribly interesting.

Walter (Carrey) is an animal control officer whose wife Agatha (Madsen) gives him a strange novel about a man obsessed with the enigma of the number 23, which echoes throughout nature and technology. And everywhere else if you look for it. Soon, Walter is convinced that the book has something to do with his life, including its central mystery about a paranoid-obsessive detective who, in a fit of jealousy, kills someone. Walter and Agatha's teen son (Lerman) gets into it as well, although their professor friend Isaac (Huston) is more cynical.

As the story unfurls, the central puzzle draws us in. It's pretty gripping stuff--complicated and constantly shifting, broadening to include murder and suicide, plus events from the characters' past, such as an unsolved crime. And there's even a cool dog that seems to be just as obsessed as Walter is. Schumacher shoots and edits with bucketloads of lush, lurid style, indulging in extremely cool-looking visual effects and making the most of Matthew Libatique's striking cinematography.

Meanwhile, the cast keep things lively. Carrey and Madsen play recognisably real people, at least until the noir atmosphere changes them into distraught movie characters. They're lively and sometimes very raw, and they also work well as the novel's characters in arty, swirly cutaways. Yet as the film becomes increasingly overwrought, they become more superficial. This is a film about suspicion and fear, yet we don't feel for any of these people at all. The film continues to hold our attention, but only because the early scenes were so strong.

The problem is that there's absolutely no subtext, and little subtlety either. As usual, Schumacher overemphasises everything to the point where there's nothing left for us to discover on our own. Which makes it rather tedious, really. And he indulges in a little too much grisly violence, mainly against women. It may look fabulous, and maintain a nicely creepy tone. But there's nothing more than that, even if you look for it.

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 8.Feb.07

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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall