Be very afraid.
It involves math.
As someone who still has to count on his fingers when figuring how much to tip the waitress at IHOP, I can kinda sympathize with Jim Carrey's protagonist who finds himself freaked out by numbers -- well, one number in particular -- in The Number 23. But even the most mathematically challenged are likely to sour on this turgid psychological thriller dealing with the so-called "23 enigma."
Carrey has proven his acting chops elsewhere, most notably in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but here he is all hangdog mugging as sad-sack dogcatcher Walter Sparrow. Trouble ensues when Walter turns 32 (whoa, dude! 32 is 23 backwards!) and his wife, Agatha (Virginia Madsen, in yet another thankless wife role), surprises him with an obscure mystery novel she came across in a used bookstore. The book is called -- wait for it -- "The Number 23," (dude! that's the same name as this movie!) and it's about a heavily tattooed, hardboiled detective named Fingerling and his obsession with the number 23 (dude! A human being has 46 chromosomes, with 23 donated by each parent!).
Walter can't tear himself from the dog-eared paperback, and before long he's finding spooky parallels between his own life and that of the fictitious gumshoe. Unfortunately for the moviegoing audience, Walter proves to be a very slow reader, and so The Number 23 (the flick, that is) burrows in his unraveling state of mind with hyper-stylized fantasies he has about Fingerling (also played by Carrey) and the private dick's sexy femme fatale, Fabrizia (ditto for Madsen).
As Walter's obsession with the book mirrors Fingerling's obsession with 23, our hapless dogcatcher resolves to learn what he can about the novel's mysterious author, Topsy Kretts. In the meantime, that pesky ol' 23 begins popping up with alarming regularity (dude! there's the number 23! and there it is again!). Oh, and then there's a mystery bulldog that hangs out in a cemetery and may or may not be connected to the 15-year-old murder of a college coed.
I have a weakness for even the most whacked-out mindbenders, but the memorable ones typically succeed by taking one of two routes. Either the film is tightly structured enough to make the implausible seem utterly plausible (Memento, The Mothman Prophecies) or it is so audacious as to burst through the gates of logic and enter the realm of irresistibly entertaining schlock (think The Butterfly Effect).
By contrast, The Number 23 is trapped in a sort of cinematic purgatory between the two poles. It is too outlandish and overcooked to deliver genuine thrills and too lugubrious and self-important for campy fun. First-time screenwriter Fernley Phillips ladles on a surfeit of ideas, some of them ambitious and intriguing, but a script this dense could have withstood some judicious editing.
Certainly, the cast doesn't appear to know what to make of it all. Madsen is adrift in a role that calls for an almost pathological inability to notice that her husband is going crazy. Carrey confuses acting with nervous tics for Walter Sparrow.
Director Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth, Phantom of the Opera) doesn't do the film any favors, injecting the proceedings with his usual excess of stylistic flair. The cinematography is bathed in soupy greens and browns, fantasy sequences echo the cut-and-paste sexuality of cologne commercials and the picture's overall look is suspiciously like outtakes from old Nine Inch Nails music videos.
The DVD boasts both the theatrical version and an unrated cut. That means about three additional minutes of visual gristle.
I will give New Line props for the DVD presentation, which is preserved in anamorphic widescreen and maintaining the theatrical release's 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The Number 23 boasts an excellent picture quality. Lines are sharp, imagery is detailed and blacks are solid. I detected no defects such as edge enhancement, combing or pixilation.
Viewers can choose between Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround and 2.0 Stereo Surround. The former is first-rate and makes good use of rear speakers, although The Number 23 is primarily dialogue-driven.
New Line indulges in some slightly annoying smoke and mirrors with its infinifilm™ razzmatazz, but the supplemental material is generally strong enough to hold its own.
Director Joel Schumacher's commentary, which is only available on the film's theatrical cut, is surprisingly pleasant and informative. If only his movie had been as engaging. Incidentally, the filmmaker notes that, if you include three made-for-television pictures he did, this marks his 23rd directing job. Cue chilling music ...
The Making of The Number 23 (22:17) includes interviews with Schumacher, Carrey, Madsen, Phillips and others for a relatively standard promotional featurette. The 11-minute, 11-second Creating the World of Fingerling focuses on the visual scheme of the fantasy sequences. Both mini-docs are watchable, but it's a bit of a downer to hear from these enthusiastic, well-intentioned filmmakers and actors who ended up creating such a dismal flick.
Sixteen deleted/alternate scenes can be viewed through a "play all" function or watched separately. The clips have an aggregate running time just shy of 14 minutes; most of it is inconsequential, although an alternate opening is mildly interesting.
The most interesting segment involves the "23 enigma" and world of numerology. The 23 Enigma has interviews with Schumacher and Phillips, but its most compelling material -- once you get past its gimmicky editing and flashing text -- comes courtesy Loyola Marymount University mathematics professors and numerology expert Josh Siegel, who details the numerology involved in I Ching, Jungian archetypes and the Kabbalah. Fascinating stuff. Sadly, the featurette is 25 minutes, thereby depriving itself from some delicious irony.
Want more numbers? A numerologist explains how to find your life path numbers in a 10-minute, 57-second featurette.
A fact track function allows viewers to access nuggets of the supplemental material at periodic points throughout the movie. Lord knows why you'd want to do that, but it's your life.
Rounding out the extras are trailers and DVD-ROM/online features.
Some intriguing ideas are lost in this bloated, excessive mess. Not to mention, I can think of at least 23 compelling psychological thrillers probably more deserving of your time. Hey! I just wrote 23!