[Screen It]


(2007) (Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A dogcatcher becomes obsessed with a book about a character obsessed with the number 23 after finding too many similarities between his life and that of the supposedly fictitious character.
Walter Sparrow (JIM CARREY) is a generally happy family man -- with wife Agatha (VIRGINIA MADSEN) they have a teenage son Robin (LOGAN LERMAN) -- who's rather bored with his job working for the Department of Animal Control. His attempts to capture a loose dog by the name of Ned, however, will forever change his life. Since he's late to meet Agatha, she ducks into a bookstore where she picks up the short novel, "The Number 23," a story of obsession about that particular integer and the way it repeatedly shows up and affects the story's characters.

She reads but doesn't think much of it, handing it off to Walter who has a much different reaction. And that's not only because he also starts seeing many things -- his driver's license and social security numbers, for instance -- that add up to or are somehow related to that number, but also due to him finding similarities between his life and that of the book's protagonist.

He's Fingerling (JIM CARREY), a seedy gumshoe who's having a fling with the seductive Fabrizia (VIRGINIA MADSEN) who's into faux rough sex. When not tying her up, he's out trying to stop Isabel, a.k.a. the Suicide Blonde (LYNN COLLINS) from living up to her name. It turns out her obsession with the number 23 -- that he discusses with Dr. Miles Phoenix (DANNY HUSTON) -- eventually segues over to Fingerling, eventually creating an obsession that threatens to destroy him just like all who've preceded him.

Back in the real world, Walter similarly becomes obsessed with the number, eventually leading to Agatha's teacher friend, Isaac French (DANNY HUSTON), trying to debunk myths about its believed supernatural significance. With repeated encounters with Ned leading to the gravesite of 23-year-old Laura Tollins (RHONA MITRA) and the man convicted of killing her, Kyle Finch (MARK PELLEGRINO), Walter tries to find out what's really occurring, an answer that will have repercussions that will jolt his world and existence in it.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
I like movies that make me think, whether that's about the elements and themes in the film or something like humankind's place in the world. That usually proves that those particular movies are about something deeper than just entertainment. Upon leaving the screening of "The Number 23," I started thinking -- natch -- about the titular integer.

After all, in the film, the number -- one of the few that can't be divided by anything other than itself and the number one with a whole number as a result -- keeps popping up, both in the life of the protagonist and for the characters in the book he's reading that conveniently also has the same title as the film. Significant dates, numbers of letters and more eventually convince the increasingly obsessed character that something is amiss, and he wants to find out the secret.

Thus, on my ride home from our press screening, I quickly counted that "Screenit.com Movie Reviews" also has 23 letters. A mysterious, unmarked white van that hung just behind me in an adjacent lane finally passed and the numbers on the license plate also added up to 23. The questions started flying -- Was there truly something to this number and it appearing everywhere? Was my life somehow in danger? Why wasn't the pic as exciting as my brief flight of fancy, or any better working with all of that potential?

Okay, to be fair, the last question arose various times during the film as I kept giving it one second chance after another, hoping it would finally click and turn into something spectacular or even just good. Alas, it never does, despite it containing a cool-sounding premise where the titular integer eventually drives the protagonist crazy, thus paralleling what occurs to various characters in the novel that now has him entranced and mired in a web of paranoia and obsession.

As directed by Joel Schumacher from a script by Fernley Phillips, the film doesn't leave enough to the imagination. Most everything is spoon-fed to us through multiple voice-over narrators, the similar readings of passages from the pivotal book, and the director's incessant need to keep showing us the obvious and then repeating that ad nauseam. In the end, everything feels like dime store pulp fiction as if filtered through a TV detective show where everything is explained in the end through last-minute revelations and various flashbacks.

Accordingly, the big, concluding twist doesn't have the punch or surprise that it should, and clearly no one appears to be in immediate danger of having his or her socks knocked off by the last minute development. Of course, and considering the built-in intrigue and the story alternating between the main character and his alter ego in the imagined version of the book, most everyone will automatically know some sort of surprise is coming down the pike.

The other significant issue is that Schumacher and company near constantly feel like they're rushing through the story. The result is that one element and development after another are constantly popping up, barely giving the viewer time to digest what's just occurred before moving on to the next bit. While the intent might have been to induce a frenetic pace, it only gives the film somewhat of an amateurish feel.

In the lead role as the dog catcher turned obsessive numerologist, Jim Carrey (in dramatic mode as noted by his long hair) is just okay, and never exudes the same sort of engaging character needs and quirks as Guy Pearce so brilliantly did in "Memento" (a film this offering obviously aspires to be similar to, not to mention the likes of "Se7en").

Carrey also plays the detective named Fingerling in the imagined recreations from the book, but is even less convincing as the seedy gumshoe who gets involved with a rough sex femme fatale played by Virginia Madsen. She also does the dual role bit (just like Danny Huston and Lynn Collins in smaller parts), but is conversely less convincing in her take as the domestic wife.

Better in concept than realized execution, the film's flaws are too numerous for it to overcome. Had it not tried so hard to be clever in terms of jumping back and forth between reality and the visualized novel (and multiple flashbacks within that), as well as teasing us with how all of those elements were connected, I think it would have worked better.

As it stands, we're never really sure what's at stake beyond the protagonist progressively slipping into ever-deepening obsessive paranoia. While the things adding up to 23 are initially a bit fun (if convenient), Schumacher and company don't explain everything as much as is needed for this setup, but at the same time address the obvious too much and too often, thus hammering home what they do want us to know.

The result isn't as remotely suspenseful, spooky, or engaging as intended or it obviously could have been. With a major retooling, it might have worked, but none of it's as creepy or intriguing as that van that mysteriously hung right with me before eventually revealing its license plate sum of 23.

Who knows, maybe the studio sent out a fleet of such vehicles to follow critics after the screening to add to the experience. Then again, that's starting to sound paranoid, now isn't it? The film rates as a 3 out of 10 (don't worry about counting the numbers and letters in that last sentence).

Reviewed February 20, 2007 / Posted February 23, 2007

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