Movie review: Nothing prime about 'Number 23'

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 22, 2007 - 3:56 PM

Jim Carrey unwisely ignores his comic talents in favor of a pile of pretentious pseudo-scary garbage.

Here's a primer on the bad things that can happen if a rubber-faced comic decides that his next project will be dark, dangerous and dramatic. A loud, discordant mess of a movie, Jim Carrey's "The Number 23" is based on the premise that the second and third integers are really spooky. You see, many unpleasant things have happened on the 23rd days of various months. Including the release of this film, which is the 23rd project that hack extraordinaire Joel Schumacher has directed. Case closed. Point proven.

The story, about a dogcatcher consumed by pulp-novel fantasies in which he's a hard-boiled, sax-playing detective, suggests the kind of material Carrey might use for a satire. Instead, it's played straight, with a faltering style, overwrought camera work and an uneven, confused tone. If you are sucked into the theater because you admire Carrey's comedy skills, you'll want to bash your head against the wall in sheer misery.

Consumed by a tattered book that seems to echo his own life in the form of a detective story, Carrey becomes fixated on his fictional alter-ego and the mysterious significance of the ubiquitous number 23. Much of the movie takes place in the dogcatcher's unruly head. In woozy fantasy sequences combining the worst of soft porn and film noir, dream-Carrey sports greasy hair, a wife beater tank shirt and skinny arms covered with thorn tattoos.

He's a twerp's fantasy of a tough stud. The sight of him all butched up and sweaty is presented as an intensely powerful aphrodisiac, and he feverishly mauls hussies on rumpled sheets or against the walls of trash-strewn apartments. It's so cheesy that it's almost transcendent. If the film were not impervious to sanity, his partners would demand that he take a long, hot shower first.

The fantasy world bleeds into everyday reality as Carrey discovers links to a long-ago murder and tracks the killer, and the finale unveils a ludicrous howler of a twist ending. The film probably was doomed the day the leading role was cast. You've got to be nimble to pull off this kind of dual-identity tightrope act, but Carrey slips off the wire.

Schumacher's work shows the plight of a director at the low ebb of inventiveness and budget. Virginia Madsen plays her second long-suffering wife role of the week; Danny Huston appears quite pleased with himself as her suave, shady friend.


    ½ out of four stars

    The setup: A dog catcher (Jim Carrey) is overwhelmed by fantasies in which he's a detective on a case where 23 is a recurring clue.

    What works: If we find a good lawyer we can probably sue someone for this.

    What doesn't: A list would stretch from here to China.

    Great line: Why not try, "Can I have a refund?"

    Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality and language.

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