Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
Joel Shumacher has, for several years, made some of the worst movies coming out of Hollywood. The atrocities of St. Elmo’s Fire, Batman and Robin, The Phantom of the Opera, and Flawless have brought his career to an unbearable reliability – almost every time out, he makes an uninteresting, intellectually barren picture.
The Number 23 proves itself no exception to the rule, as glossy and middlebrow as all the rest. Jim Carrey is himself as Walter Sparrow, a dogcatcher whose wife turns him on to some numerical literature. As Fingerling, his dark alter-ego within the novel, he is different because he has tattoos, wears his hair long to the collar of his black coat, and says the f-word. I suppose the inspiration was a self-important high schooler.
Carrey becomes obsessed with the number 23, finding all sorts of “spooky” connections within his own life that point to the number being somehow meaningful. 2 divided by 3 is .666 (66666), he is born on February 3rd (2/3), etc. The plot then starts moving itself, the characters acting unreasonably and without motivation, pushing non-conflict to melodrama. The hand of the machine is present and unembarrassed, and Shumacher expects nothing of his audience. The title might as well have been Contrivance.
Virginia Madsen, who did wonderful work in Sideways, does as well as she can with Mrs. Sparrow, but is embarrassed as her dark counterpart in the novel, Fabrizia. Her middle-aged body forced into black leather hooker outfits, her character confined to phrases like “Sex and death. What a turn on”, Madsen deserves better. Likewise for Danny Huston, a good actor consistently finding himself bereft of meaty roles.
Shumacher’s direction seems to have been focused entirely on getting grainy film stock for scenes from the novel, creating the title sequence, and turning the camera on. Leaden dialogue falls out of the actors’ mouths like marbles hitting the floor, the scenes feeling unrehearsed and careless, like a series of first takes. The script, by first-timer Fernley Phillips, doesn't possess the dialogue to support the story, and the plot causes the audience to lose interest long before it ultimately insults them by succumbing to Sixth Sense Syndrome, or pulling the poorly constructed rug out from under their collective feet.
I suppose Shumacher will make movies as long as audiences keep coming for the first weekend – but it’s disheartening to reflect on the hundreds of worthy films made this year that almost no one will get to see. Shumacher has pursued flash over substance, but it says little for both when you find yourself staring at the exit signs.