film | Dim sum
If nothing else, THE NUMBER 23 gave me a brand-spankin'-new entry on my List of Stuff I Never Ever Want to See in a Movie Again: Jim Carrey in the throes of kinky sexual make-believe. ("Pretend that you have a knife. Cut my shirt. Cut me! Cut me!") This ridiculous mystery-thriller from notoriously spotty director Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth [good], The Phantom of the Opera [not]) miscasts the erstwhile Pet Detective in a wonky dual role: a mild-mannered dog catcher who receives a mysterious secondhand paperback as a gag birthday gift from his wife (Virginia Madsen), and — as he reads along and visualizes the story — the book's main character, a Goth-noir private eye entangled in a seedy web of lust, murder, suicide, and a very peculiar obsession with the titular digits. As Literal Carrey allows himself to get sucked hard into Literary Carrey's paranoid fantasia, he starts to sputter kooky declarations like "I was born at 11:12 p.m.! 11 plus 12? 23!" and "Waco, Texas and the Oklahoma City bombing both happened on April 19th! 4 plus 19 is 23!" Yeah. Okay. And? The film is never clear about what all these dire mathematics mean, other than that you can probably finagle a 23 from just about any given numerical sequence depending on your strategic placement of addition, multiplication and subtraction functions. That's less a terrifying movie scenario than, y'know, a rudimentary brain-teaser.
Actually, "rudimentary brain-teaser" is a good way to encapsulate The Number 23. The script, by first-timer Fernley Phillips, wants to flaunt twisted smarts in its portrayal of a fragile psyche collapsing in on itself, but it's mostly a load of stylized conspiratorial hooey that maybe never seems quite as awful as it truly is because of distractingly impressive technical credits. (Seriously, the cinematography by Requiem for a Dream's Matthew Libatique and the production design by Down With Love's Andrew Laws are worth checking out for at least 23 minutes.) Carrey's unflappably game, but he's not an actor who can pull off the Raymond Chandler-esque narration or the tough-guy body tattoos; in fact, the movie's increasingly rampant nuttiness (sample straight-faced dialogue: "It's all over, Topsy Kretts!") amplifies Carrey's ingrained wacky persona to the degree that he begins to seem smarmy and disingenuous — like he's mere moments away from talking with his ass or busting out a "Somebody stop me!" — as Number enters its gloomy homestretch. And though Madsen is a warm and lovely presence in any film, her character does things that make no sense ("I took the skeleton, but I didn't write the book!"), and I'm a little concerned that her acclaimed comeback in 2004's Sideways has yielded the same wifely duties in this, The Astronaut Farmer and last year's Firewall. She deserves better parts, and there were only 22 letters in that concluding observation. Ha. Suck it, 23. C-