Monday, March 5, 2007

THE NUMBER 23 (Review)

I’m not exactly sure what went wrong.
I mean, I have fond memories of The Lost Boys and St. Elmo’s Fire, and Flatliners wasn’t entirely without merit. (Of course, I haven’t seen these films in quite some time, so they may look like entirely different movies now, under a more adult, more discerning eye.)
I think it all began to go wrong around Dying Young.
Then there was Batman Forever. And Batman & Robin. And 8MM.
Phone Booth was passably watchable, but not enough to wash away the horrid aftertaste of his previous fiascos.
But then there was the awful stumble that was The Phantom of the Opera, a film which seemed far too interested in showing off its sets than in the performances of its actors, and whose musical numbers seemed a pale imitation of those in its theatre incarnation.

I am, of course, referring to Joel Schumacher, and despite all the horrible misses he’s racked up in my books, I’m still occasionally curious to see whether he can again direct a film that is actually something I’d want to watch more than once.
Well, The Number 23 isn’t it.

Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) is an unassuming dog catcher who becomes obsessed with the number 23 through a second hand book given to him as a birthday gift by his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen).
The book (The Number 23, written by Topsy Kretts—yes, Topsy Kretts), is the unlikely first-person narrative of someone who asks to be called “Fingerling,” a tattooed, saxophone-playing detective whose childhood seems to mirror Walter’s own. And as Walter’s identification with Fingerling grows, he likewise falls under the spell of the number 23.
As Sparrow’s obsession grows deeper, his wife and son Robin (Logan Lerman) are drawn into the mystery as well, as the family moves towards the ultimate truth behind the book and Walter’s own life.

Now, a lot of the time, I find Carrey’s particular acting tics too distracting, so much so that it seems to be the character playing Jim Carrey and not the other way around.
In The Number 23 though, Carrey is able to keep himself restrained just enough to allow Walter to be Walter.
Sadly, Carrey is failed by the script (by Fernley Phillips), which ultimately falls back on a painfully convenient resolution, and Schumacher’s direction (particularly of the sections of the novel, where we see a tattooed Carrey playing a not-too-convincing gumshoe in Schumacher’s torrid version of noir).
Though the central mystery is functional enough to keep the audience’s attention, and the final reveal does address the question that may crop up in some viewers’ minds (why does an apparently well-adjusted individual like Walter fall under the number 23’s spell so readily?), the film itself doesn’t really come together in a satisfying way.

Granted, it’s better than some of the more recent psychological thrillers out of Hollywood like Hide and Seek and Identity, The Number 23 still ultimately rings hollow, particularly in its resolution. Somehow, the dramatic weight of the decision made seems brushed aside and taken for granted, in favor of an ending that should appease any portions of the audience who demand justice, whatever the cost (including the effective crippling of a story that could have risen so much higher).

The truth behind the mystery also doesn’t really address the exact manner in which the second-hand book falls into Walter’s hands, at least not in any logical way that makes sense, and not without having to bring in fate and destiny and quite possibly the supernatural into the post-film discussion. It’s all a bit much, given the overriding sense that the film itself isn’t of much consequence to begin with.

So, Schumacher doesn’t quite get it. Again.
I’m honestly uncertain what he needs to do to come up with a film that’s worth the film stock it’s shot on (if that’s not too anachronistic a turn of phrase in this day and age of digital film).
I guess he needs to start with the script. Some of his failures—particularly Batman & Robin and 8MM—had terrible scripts.
Then he needs to rethink his visual approach. Oftentimes, he crosses the line into territory that is gaudy and overly florid, and this merely distracts the audience from the story being told onscreen.
If he does this, then just maybe, he’ll come up with a winner. Or at the very least, win me over.

Parting shot: Two of Schumacher’s next reported projects (the horror film Town Creek, and The Crowded Room, based on the true story of a man with 24 personalities) pique my interest, so my dance with Mr. S is not yet at an end…

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