Like watching paint dry … by numbers

2008-02-01 00:00

ADDING up random sequences of numbers to reach a particular answer is a popular brain teaser. In this film by Joel Schumacher, the number is 23. The titles show all sorts of dates that supposedly add up to 23, like the date of the Hiroshima bombing, of Hitler's suicide, of Caesar's assassination etc. Of course, dates that don't work are simply omitted. Like any conspiracy theory, you pay attention to what supports it and ignore the stuff that doesn't.

The Number 23 is one of Jim Carrey's “serious” films, which means he doesn't pull silly faces. He plays Walter Sparrow, an animal control officer who is married to Agatha (Virginia Madsen). We soon learn that Walter is a bit of a friendless sort: on his birthday, they spend the evening with Agatha's friends, who play charades while Walter sits in another room. Walter is also rather thick. On the way to the party, his wife has bought him a book. It's a typescript labelled The Number 23: A Novel of Obsession, by Topsy Kretts. Agatha apparently reads most of the slim volume standing in the shop, but it takes Walter hours just to read one chapter. It's the story of one “Fingerling”, a detective who encounters several suicides, including one woman obsessed with the number 23.

Soon Walter is seeing the number everywhere and is increasingly spooked by the apparent echoes of his own life. As Walter ploddingly makes his way through the story, it is played out in a film noir-ish style until he finally cracks the code. Yes, there's a twist in the tale, but the thing feels bolted together, rather than like an organic whole.

The film is shot in a washed-out, gloomy palette - both “real life” and the film noir fantasy interludes looking rather similar. Of course, every number you see adds up to 23, which provides a spark of interest in the background, but I'm afraid that watching Sparrow read the book agonisingly slowly was a bit like watching paint dry - he doesn't catch on to “Topsy Kretts” until it is explained to him …

The whole thing is a bit glib, and it's hard to imagine who will really like this film. It won't please Carrey's main fan base, and the rest of us are usually put off by his name in a cast list. Even lovers of conspiracy theory are likely to find little to get their teeth into.

**

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