“Unlucky ‘Number’ for Jim Carrey”
by Scott Mantz

“The Number 23”
Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen
Directed by Joel Schumacher

It doesn’t add up! Jim Carrey becomes obsessed with “The Number 23”

The good news for Jim Carrey fans is that after staying out of the public eye for more than a year (since the release of 2005’s “Fun with Dick and Jane”), Carrey is back with his funniest comedy in years.  The bad news is that it’s supposed to be a psychological thriller.

“The Number 23” is more than just a colossal misfire.  It’s Jim Carrey’s “Battlefield Earth” — a mind-boggling disaster that easily fits the bill as his worst starring vehicle, which could explain why it’s being released in theaters during the studio dumping ground of February (the 23rd, to be exact).

That’s a mighty big fall for Carrey, who for years has been widely regarded as one of the biggest and most bankable actors in Hollywood.  That’s largely due to his over-the-top, rubber-faced antics in box office-busting comedies like 1994’s “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” 1997’s “Liar Liar” and 2003’s “Bruce Almighty.”

But moviegoers had a tougher time embracing Carrey’s more dramatic side in films like 1999’s “Man on the Moon” and 2001’s “The Majestic.”  That said, his impressive turn in 2004’s critically acclaimed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” did prove that he could be taken seriously when he wanted to be.

And he obviously wants to be, judging by his fiercely committed performance in “The Number 23.”  The problem is that the story, written by first-time screenwriter Fernley Phillips, is a mess, and not even an experienced genre director like Joel Schumacher (who previously worked with Carrey on 1995’s “Batman Forever”) can whip it into shape.

Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, a pet detective of sorts (he’s a dog catcher) whose wife (Virginia Madsen) gives him an unusual birthday present: a book called “The Number 23.”  In it, a chilling murder mystery is played out that mirrors Walter’s own life in strange and mysterious ways — all of which have to do with the dark power of the number 23.  As Walter becomes more obsessed with the book, he vows to unlock its secrets before his paranoia threatens to tear his family apart.

The film starts off on a fascinating note, as many of history’s biggest incidents are depicted as being directly related to the number 23.  Among them, that cult leader Charles Manson was born on November 12 (11 + 12 = 23), and that the Mayans predicted the end of the world on December 23, 2012 (20 + 1 + 2 = 23).

Too bad that the movie wasn’t 23 minutes long, since anything beyond that point doesn’t make a lick of sense.  Not only does Walter get consumed by the book way too fast to be believed, but the side-story depicted within it (which features a tattoo-covered Carrey and Virginia Madsen as his leather-clad dominatrix) makes it more far-fetched and incomprehensible than it already is.

No one can blame Carrey for wanting to stretch beyond his reliable brand of crowd-pleasers, but “The Number 23” was obviously the wrong project to do it with.  That has less to do with him and more to do with a number of other factors, but maybe this means that he’ll get back to doing what he does best: comedies.  And that really would be good news for Carrey fans.