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Case Number 11740

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The Number 23

New Line // 2007 // 100 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // July 24th, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Eric Profancik quickly realized he needed the help of his next door neighbor to finish counting to 23, as he'd run out of fingers and toes.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Number 23 (Blu-Ray), published October 23rd, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

The truth will find you.

Opening Statement

Jim Carrey, what a funny guy. We love his goofy antics. We want him to be silly, but he wants to be more. That's why he spreads out and does more serious fare. But we don't want a serious Carrey. We want him to be funny. That's why his dramatic films usually don't do so well. The Number 23 is the latest in a string of serious Carrey that has fizzled at the box office. Is it all to blame on Jim trying not to be funny, or is the movie any to blame? This time it's not all Jim's fault.

Facts of the Case

Walter (Jim Carrey, The Mask) is late. He's supposed to meet his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen, The Astronaut Farmer) for dinner, and she's impatient. She decides to wander into a used bookstore wherein a title immediately catches her eye. Quickly perusing it, in comes Walter, and she decides to buy the book, "The Number 23," for him. Grudgingly he accepts, as he's not much into books. He begins reading it and finds the work about obsession, well, quite obsessively compelling. Slowly working his way through each page, he finds himself growing fascinated and then disturbed how the events of the character's life, Fingerling, mirror his own. Agatha brushes off the coincidences, but Walter gets deeper and deeper into the novel. As he reads it, he imagines himself as Fingerling and Agatha as his sultry friend Fabrizia. Further and further into the book, Walter becomes more and more disturbed by it. He's beginning to lose touch with reality, immersing himself in Fingerling's world. Can Walter accept the fiction of the book before he completely loses touch with reality?

The Evidence

I'd like to think I don't have a problem with Jim Carrey playing drama. Then again, I don't go to movies where Carrey is doing his serious thing. Well, I did see The Truman Show and half of The Majestic, but that's it. I'm just like the millions of others who want Carrey to be funny. When the trailer came out, it appeared to have an intriguing premise. Guy gets book, reads book, sees weird "23 enigma," thinks book is all about him, and begins to go a bit mental. Dark is good, and I like mind-game thrillers like this one. So I was anxious to see what this one had to offer, but I am sorry to say that it is disappointing. It's not just serious Carrey that kept moviegoers away but a lackluster movie as well.

On the surface, The Number 23 does have an interesting premise, and there's a lot of potential in this "23 enigma" that it delves. Oh, what's this "23 enigma"? You can go ahead and scour the dozens of websites devoted to this anomaly, but the nutshell version (no pun intended) is that the number 23 itself is linkable to innumerable events of historical significance and nature itself. To arrive at 23, most often it takes a bit of "finesse." For example, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 8/6/45 (8 + 6 + 4 +5 = 23), or the events of 9/11 (wherein 9/11/2001: 9 + 11 + 2 + 1 = 23). Notice how in one instance you have to have the century tag (2001) but can't use it in the other (1945). Some natural examples are 23 chromosomes to fertilize a human egg and the earth is tilted 23.5 degrees to the sun. (Don't fret about that "5"; it's also special to numerology.)

I'll say I find the "23 enigma" a fascinating concept. It certainly appears that 23 pops up in history and nature an inordinate amount of time; but, then again, it takes some creativity to arrive at the number. I'm not a believer in the concept, but I'll buy into it for a quick read or for a movie. The Number 23 has the "23 enigma" at its core. Walter's life appears to be tied to the number, from his birthday (February 3) to adding up the letters of his name to his social security number. Walter finds himself obsessed with the book, "The Number 23," and how Fingerling's obsession with 23 becomes his own. The book becomes Walter's life.

As Walter immerses himself in this riddle, the viewer is treated to excellent performances from Carrey and Madsen. They get to play dual roles, as everyday, simple husband and wife, to film noir cop and seductress. It shows off their acting chops, their bodies, and a potential complexity of tale. What is the history behind this book? Why is Walter so mesmerized by it? Are there truly similarities or is Walter just making grand leaps of imagination? Where is this all going? That's the true question the viewer wants addressed. Is this journey into obsession going to pay off, or will the story peeter out and give us a lame ending? Luckily, the ending doesn't take the easy way out, and it gives an intriguing resolution.

Yet the problem with The Number 23 is that an interesting premise, good acting, and a partially promising resolution (see "The Rebuttal Witness") don't come together. It just falls flat. The characters never fully pull you in, the story doesn't quite grab you, and it ends with a sigh. It's neither a bad movie nor a great one. It's simply average in every conceivable measure, and it creates a very bland movie. You'll have seen the potential, wanted to let it grab you and wow you, but it fizzles out. The Number 23 is just there. If you dig into it, really thrill on the weirdness of it, you may get more; but for the casual viewer, it's a mild diversion.

Regardless of its box office, overall lackluster reviews, and lukewarm reception, the Infinifilm red carpet has been rolled out on this one. However, like the film, the Infinifilm treatment also leaves a bit to be desired. First, the disc contains both the theatrical cut of the film and an unrated version, with about 2 minutes of extra material. There's no plot difference between the cuts, just a little more flesh and eroticism. On to the good news: the audio and video transfers are top notch. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video handles well the swinging demands of the story from vibrant colors to rich shades of gray. Layer on that crisp details, excellent contrast, and no errors, and you'll like what you see. You'll also like what you hear with an exceptional Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This aggressive track sparkles from all channels with crisp and clean dialogue, realistic and engaging use of the surrounds, and a potent bass when necessary. It's one of the better, more balanced tracks I've heard this year. And that's the end of the good news.

The Infinifilm label implies an unusual level of depth and information on a movie, but that's not the case with The Number 23. I found the material to be, at best, mildly interesting, not especially thorough, and lacking. There isn't that much to warrant the big label.

All Access Pass: This is where you find special features that talk about the movie itself and what went into creating it.

• Commentary by Joel Schumacher: Available only on the theatrical version, it's another solid track from Schumacher. He relays a nice mix of stories, banter, and technical information about the making of his film.
• Deleted/Alternate Scenes: Sixteen scenes are available (with play all), including a worse, alternate ending. A few scenes add a little flavor, but mainly these were wise cuts.
• "The Making of Number 23": The meat and potatoes, standard featurette about putting it all together. It's kinda blah, like the movie.
• "Creating the World of Fingerling": As the title implies, another standard look at the evolution of the design of the movie.

Beyond the Movie: This is where concepts and ideas touched upon in the movie are given a bit of extra explanation. Seeing as there's only one "real" concept explored in the movie, it again begs the question "Why?"

• "The 23 Enigma": Starting off with promise, this featurette discusses the enigma and its place in history, nature, and lore. It cites examples but then quickly sidetracks into a discussion about numerology in general. The focus shifts from the enigma to numbers, and there's no solid connection to the movie.
• 'How to Find Your Life Path Numbers": Everyone has some kind of life number, and this slightly wacky piece shows you how to uncover yours.
• Infinifilm Fact Track: The big Infinifilm "subtitle" track available on the theatrical version only.

Also included are trailers for The Number 23, Mr. Woodcock, Fracture, Snakes on a Plane (on DVD), Pan's Labyrinth, The Butterfly Effect 2, and The Hard Easy.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The only thing left to mention is the "partially promising ending." I was happy to find the movie did not take the easy way out and actually put forth some theory/explanation/rationale for these events. Walter follows a path that leads to a definite point, and his family, his wife and son, come along for the scary journey. While Walter's resolution is satisfying, Agatha's actions are just plain stupid. What she does is dumb and ruins the magic of the moment. All the worse, the alternate ending posits an even lamer tie-in for the son; but that was luckily and wisely excised. So, ignore Agatha and focus on Walter for any measure of satisfying resolution.

Oh, and Jim Carrey's earnest narration about the enigma in the bonus materiasl is far scarier than anything in the movie itself.

Closing Statement

It fizzled, it flopped, and it earns the Infinifilm label! The Number 23 has a mysterious and quirky idea at its center, yet it never gets to completely come out and play. The tension, the drama, the mystery, the film noir of the movie doesn't gain enough traction and it just plays out as an average melodrama. Not so good, not so bad, just enough to pass the time. This one is perfectly suitable for a rental, but only if your other top choices are already sold out. If you're interested in buying, there are great transfers but bonus material is certainly lacking. You're better off saving your money for something a little more worthwhile. The Number 23 is a prime example of not getting it right.

The Verdict

The Number 23 is hereby found guilty of a Ouija board fraud. Case adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 95
Extras: 60
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Genres:
• Drama
• Erotic
• Mystery
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted/Alternate Scenes
• Commentary by Joel Schumacher
• "The Making of Number 23"
• "Creating the World of Fingerling"
• "The 23 Enigma"
• "How to Find Your Life Path Numbers"
• Trailers

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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