This review’s opening sentence, the really dull, pointless one that you are reading at this very moment, is composed of exactly 23 words. According to The Number 23, that means it’s evil. And not just evil in a mundane, unoriginal, bore-you-to-tears kinda way. I mean it’s straight-up eeeeevil in an unholy, two-divided-by-three-equals-.666—you know, the sign of the Devil!—chilling kinda way. If such scary-number silliness strikes your fancy, then welcome back to the cinema of Joel Schumacher, in which cheesy narrative nonsense combines with visual gibberish and loads of overacting to create a turgid genre stew so thick with absurdity it’s hard not to choke with laughter.
Seemingly determined to resuscitate Flatliners’ tarnished reputation by making an even worse pseudo-horror thriller, the director’s latest aims for creepiness via numerology, with dog catcher Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) slowly driven insane by a mysterious book—given to him by featureless wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen)—whose fictional story about the number 23 boasts startling parallels to his own life. Before long, Walter is seeing the titular numeral everywhere he looks, a mania amplified by the repeated appearance of a mystical pooch so cool and collected, it barely bats an eyelash at imminent death-by-car. Amid Walter’s encroaching madness, Fernley Phillips’s goofy script takes detours into the book’s noir action involving tattooed, saxophone-playing detective Fingerling (Carrey, again), sequences which Schumacher visualizes (with the help of usually expert cinematographer Matthew Libatique) as a tacky cross between Sin City and Metallica’s “Unforgiven” video. Reconfirming his blandness as a dramatic actor, a miscast Carrey flip-flops between sullen fretting and zealous freaking out, with every one of his mordant jokes exacerbating the film’s sweeping ridiculousness. And like co-stars Madsen and Danny Huston (as a mysterious psychologist with possible carnal desires for Agatha), the former funnyman is set adrift by Schumacher’s cheap aesthetic luridness and insistence on treating his paranoia-drenched material—replete with a deflating twist ending—with ominous gravity.
Were its badness more amusing than aggravating, The Number 23 might have been a camp classic. Yet aside from select moments such as Madsen telling Carrey to commit murder so as not to “disappoint all the 23s!,” the film doesn’t even have the good sense to completely fulfill its potential as unintentional comedy. Nevertheless, despite this wholesale ineptitude, a quick search of the Internet Movie Database reveals that Schumacher has three future projects on his plate. Now there’s a 23-word sentence that’s evil.