Read between the lines

The Number 23

Writing on bathroom stalls has really gotten outta hand.

Writing on bathroom stalls has really gotten outta hand.

Rated 3.0

Before I went to see The Number 23, I checked out its rating on Yeah, I know, I’m not supposed to do that, but screw it, I was bored. Anyway, the film is shaping up to be one of the year’s worst reviewed movies, getting a mere 8 percent of positive reviews on the site. Having seen this, I figured the movie would be a return to garbage for director Joel Schumacher, who hasn’t really sucked for quite some time.

Good god, I actually liked this screwball of a mystery-thriller. Yes, it’s preposterous, but you have to be nowadays to pull the wool over savvy audiences’ eyes. The Number 23 kept me involved, looks pretty damned good and managed to fool me more than once. Once again, I’m giving a positive review to a Schumacher film. Perhaps I am losing my freaking mind.

Jim Carrey, in dramatic-serious mode, plays Walter Sparrow, a dogcatcher who gets a strange book from his wife (Virginia Madsen) on his birthday. The book is some sort of twisted murder mystery, featuring a fixation with the number 23. As he reads further, he begins to channel the book’s obsession with the number, counting its appearances in his own life (his birthday, the date he met his wife, etc.). He also begins identifying and seeing himself as Fingerling, the novel’s tattooed, scruffy private investigator. Murderous nightmares and crazy coincidences ensue.

The film starts out as more of a meditation on the number 23, then it spirals into a murder mystery that seems to have an obvious conclusion at first, but then it takes some surprising twists and turns. I’m not going to say this is a classic film we’re talking about here, but it is competent and entertaining. A couple sequences are a little confusing, but I’m giving the film a pass for those.

Carrey is in fine form here. He’s playing, essentially, two characters, Sparrow in real life and Fingerling in the dream sequences. He captures a level of twitchiness that never becomes irritating, and he keeps Sparrow sympathetic no matter how crazy he gets. The sight of him painted up in tattoos is sort of funny, but that only amounts for a few seconds of movie time. Virginia Madsen, thankfully still experiencing a career resurgence, does nice work in the dual roles of Sparrow’s wife and Fingerling’s femme fatale, Fabrizia. Her role is required to deliver some of the film’s best acting, of which she’s certainly capable.

Schumacher is up to some of his old tricks, overdoing it in spots with the stylistic stuff. However, his directorial style this time out is surprisingly subdued. The film is “earthy” considering the man helming it. Schumacher normally goes for those overly lit, multicolored sets that assault the eyes. Here, he allows things to get darker. It’s probably his best-looking film since The Lost Boys. It’s shot with a washed-out tint by Matthew Libatique, who is becoming a giant of the craft. He’s worked the camera for all of Darren Aronofsky’s feature length films, including last year’s best film, The Fountain. He also shot Josie and the Pussycats, but I’ll forgive him for that.

Some critics have complained about the film’s ending. I think they’re complaining because the movie made them feel like idiots. Credit goes to the screenwriters for fashioning a film that is as confusing as it should be yet ties together really well in the end.

So there you go, a review of a Joel Schumacher film with minimal bile from me. I feel somewhat defeated in finding enjoyment in his latest films. I still hate you, Joel Schumacher, but I am now willing to confess that you are capable of making movies that don’t totally blow. Once again, just to make things clear, I still hate you.