I’m not sure if it was the cold medicine I was on, which had numbers on the label that ironically added up together to make 23, but Joel Schumacher’s latest cinematic endeavor almost won me over with its eccentric style. Too bad the story was so scatter brained that when you calculate it all out The Number 23 just doesn’t add up.
Admittedly the idea that a single number has the power to drive a man mad with its uncanny ability to almost infinitely attach itself to patterns certainly seems intriguing for a storyteller, especially a visually strong one like Schumacher. Love him or hate him for what he did to the Batman franchise, Schumacher has a knack for putting beautiful images on the big screen, and in The Number 23 the director and Requiem for a Dream cinematographer Matthew Libatique put a visual exclamation point on this hauntingly beautiful descent into madness.
While a director can pack as much style into a single frame as he or she wants, no matter how stunning the imagery is it still doesn’t fix a flawed script, and The Number 23 has as many plot holes as the title suggests. With The Number 23 being screenwriter Fernley Philips’ first screenplay produced into a major motion picture, one would think the writer would have put the time into tweaking the script’s weaknesses, because the final product is a drawn-out mess.
What are the serendipitous chances that Virginia Madsen’s character just happens to pick up a book that will end up driving her husband mad? While Schumacher uses visually appealing, saturated color and basic principles of linear design to allow our sight to immediately be attracted to the novel, you still will find yourself asking why this book? When the convoluted and predictable finale hits, you too will be baffling over the slim twist of fate The Number 23 revolves around.
Perhaps the strongest selling point of The Number 23 is for mainstream audiences to find out if Jim Carrey can handle a darker, dramatic role. While he already proved his acting chops in the pseudo romantic comedy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Carrey tries attempts to balance a unique mix between two characters, Fingerling, a film noir-like detective, and Walter Sparrow, who begins the film as your average pet detective (an inside joke perhaps?) that slowly succumbs his sanity to The Number 23.
The most interesting parts of The Number 23 take place within the picture’s film noir sub story, which recreates the novel’s account of Fingerling’s murder mystery. These overexposed shots, which blast a surreal glow onto the brilliant lighting featured within each frame of Walter Sparrow’s imaginative recreation of the novel, are far superior to the film’s bland reality. Not only do the visuals pop off the screen, but Carrey and Madsen wrap their tongues around the hard boiled dialogue quite well, making the shoddy lines that comprise the rest of the picture all the more disappointing.
While the use of style over substance in Schumacher’s latest could have been forgiven had the film chosen to focus on the surreal, it is the belittling finale designed to tediously explain the plot for mass audiences that really made me cringe. I will admit, The Number 23 had me for a while, but then the picture screeches to a halt to explain every minute detail for nearly a half an hour. Not only is it unnecessary, it is by far one of the longest debriefings ever featured in a motion picture.
Though Schumacher certainly can be proclaimed as an expert stylist, his track record of misses certainly outweighs his hits. The reason is simple; Schumacher’s films focus on style over substance. The Number 23 is a prime example of this. I think even Joel Schumacher will appreciate the score this film received.
– Joe Russo, MoviePulse