Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Repeat Bidness: The Number 23

Looking at this week's list of releases I noticed that both Jim Carrey and Rhona Mitra have films opening, Horton Hears a Who! and Doomsday, respectively. It dawned on me that a little over a year ago these two shared the big screen. So for those living the Netflix life, let's take a look at:

DVD Release: 08/03/2007
Rated R
1 hour, 35 minutes

Matinee ($$$)

"It Doesn't Quite Add Up"

Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) stars as Animal Control Officer Walter Sparrow who, thanks to a last-minute stray dog pick-up, is late to pick up his loving wife, Agatha, portrayed by Virginia Madsen (Candyman). His tardiness prompts Agatha to browse the neighboring shops and find a book, The Number 23, which she buys for Walter. He quickly becomes engrossed in the story of Detective Fingerling and his growing obsession with the number 23 after a brief encounter with a Suicide Blonde. But Fingerling’s fixation soon passes to Walter who feels the author is speaking directly to him. Agatha becomes worried for her husband whose behavior becomes increasingly erratic as he searches desperately for a deeper meaning within the book.

Aside from a few catty remarks, Jim Carrey is in rare, non-hijinks form. Instead of contorting his body into bizarre comical shapes, Carrey instead focuses on portraying Walter as your typical, mild-mannered husband. Walter evolves into a man gripped by fascination and struggling to separate himself from the eerie images the fiction instills within him. Carrey is also called upon to play the role of the surly, jealous Detective Fingerling as the movie steers the audience between Walter’s conscious mind and his uncontrollable recreations of the book’s gruesome events. Carrey does an excellent job at weaving these two characters together as Walter’s persona is infected with the growing paranoia instilled by the author’s details. Madsen holds her own by playing both the role of Walter's doting, concerned wife, and Fabrizia, Fingerling’s bed buddy and erotic thrill junkie.

Director Joel Schumacher (Falling Down) follows Walter’s scrutiny of the novel by interlacing key elements of the story into the larger story of the Sparrow family. These segues into the novel are high contrast scenes. Characters are darkly clad and their surroundings barren and shadowed. The cinematography has a hazy, dreamlike aura that emphasizes the imagined element. Strangely, as Walter uncovers the reality of the book’s hidden nature, the film takes on a more expository form. The final explanation feels like it takes forever, which detracts greatly from a film that would have otherwise completely piqued and thrilled audiences.

I don’t know if I should lay the blame on rookie screenwriter Fernley Phillips or Schumacher for adding several elements into the story that never quite fit smoothly. Just one example is NED, the nasty evil dog whose presence supposedly adds cohesion but instead unravels this tense tale of suspense.

Dirty Undies
The murky, smutty mystery moments provide a wealth of disturbing images. Suicide jumpers, slit throats, and repeatedly stabbed characters litter the screen. The buckets of pooled blood far outweigh the gratuitous sex appeal. Accusations of murder and adultery come tainted with vulgarity you haven’t heard uttered by Carrey in his usual family-friendly fare. Virginia Madsen, Rhona Mitra (Highwaymen), and Kate Mara (50 First Dates) all prance around in some not-quite-revealing lingerie. Carrey dishes out his own shirtless, manly swagger but given his gaunt physique, it isn’t nearly as appealing as the ladies.

The Money Shot
The Number 23 is an intriguing mystery that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats for the majority of the film. Its Achilles heel lies in the execution of its prestige; its lengthy bow wrapping leaves too much time for the detail-oriented viewers to punch holes the size of Mack trucks into a promising story. If you appreciate a good thriller and do not get too caught up in the details, Carrey’s latest film will add up to an enjoyable time.

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