Jim Carrey has shown a good bit of range over the past few decades. I am not going to list all of his dramatic roles but he's moved quite effortlessly between comedies and dramas for some time now, whether you end up liking the movies or not. As far as I can tell, however, The Number 23 is currently the only thriller he has starred in since becoming a household name (although he has cropped up in thrillers before that time, perhaps most notably rocking out to a Guns 'n' Roses tune in the final Dirty Harry movie, The Dead Pool).
That might be surprising, or maybe it just shows that Carrey knows how to play to his strengths. And thrillers like this one aren't what he is best suited to.
The plot sees Carrey as a man named Walter. He's married to Agatha (Virginia Madsen), he has a son named Robin (Logan Lerman), and life isn't too bad. But then he is given a book, "The Number 23", and starts to become obsessed with it. That number is everywhere, so ubiquitous throughout Walter's life that he starts to believe that the book is somehow speaking to him directly. He is either being pushed towards solving a mystery or being driven towards insanity. Maybe both.
Directed by Joel Schumacher, The Number 23 is just a drab and unexciting rehash of many better films. The script, a first main screenwriting credit for Fernley Phillips, plays things far too safe throughout, neither embracing the potential pulpy fun of the story within a story being read by Carrey's character nor making anything dark or tense enough. This leads instead to scenes of Carrey portraying the character he is reading about, sometimes doing an okay job of it and sometimes being cringe-inducingly unsuitable for the role.
When he's playing Walter in the here and now, Carrey isn't bad. He's an everyday kind of guy, believable when acting normally. The problems come whenever he's broodily playing the saxophone or starting to scribble the number 23 all over his face. Madsen and Lerman both do well in their roles, even if the former feels a bit like stunt casting, considering her most famous role on film could also be described as someone who starts to look deeper into a story until obsession consumes her. Danny Huston is ill-served by the script, although he does his best with his very limited screentime, and Lynn Collins and Rhona Mitra both help to flesh out the story within the film.
I didn't have a strong reaction to this film as the end credits rolled, and can only assume that I was previously passive when I first viewed it (although I can't remember, which shows how much of an impression this film made on me). As I began to write this review I figured that I would be polite and unflattering, and remind everyone that this is a decidely average piece of work. But it's not. The more I think about it, the more it has to be pointed out as a below average experience. Not a terrible film, although I know some who will disagree, it's just a competently made disappointment.
Buy 23 copies here.
Americans can get it here.