Director Joel Schumacher re-teams with Jim Carrey in the latter's latest attempt to tangent away from the comedic genre, trying to seal himself as being capable of pulling off a dramatic role time and again. I thought he had decent outings with The Majestic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (my favourite 2004 movie), though I must admit his brooding, obsessive character in The Number 23 totally wiped out traces of that trademarked smirk off his face. You don't see him smile in this movie.
Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, an Animal Control Department employee with a beautiful functional family, who on his birthday, was given an independently published book by his wife (Virginia Madsen) called "The Number 23". He reads too much into it, and suddenly, everything else in his life adds up to this magic number, fueling an obsession of trying to get down to the bottom of the mystery, and to locate the book's writer, who seemed to have understood and written about Sparrow's own life.
Running parallel to the main narrative, like a story within a story, is that from the book itself, where a man known as Fingerling (also played by Carrey, with mean body tattoos), pens down his thoughts like a diary, as a detective undergoing some strange series of investigations pertaining to the number. You can argue that the characters in the book look like their "real life counterparts", because that's probably an angle you adopt when you read a novel - trying to picture the character in real life, and in this case, Sparrow sees very much of himself in Fingerling, and plucks the others in his life, into the other characters.
Naturally there is a reason to all the madness, as the story on the number works its way to the finale. In fact, you'll probably guess the outcome midway in the movie, though you'll wonder about the exact ending, dwelling on morality, a what-if you can cover up your mistakes, or to choose to own up kind of situation. It's quite refreshing an idea, with the story centered on the plausibility of conspiracy theories involving the number 23. In fact, there are interesting associations with the number, however, this becomes tired during the times when it is contrived - you know how when dates and times involving the fictional characters suddenly all add up. It's too much of a coincidence.
But no doubt you'll have fun in trying to discover the easter eggs of the number 23, when it appears in the frame of the movie. There are so many, you'll begin to lose count. The special effects and editing also play an important part in the movie, transitioning between current and events with scenes from the book. The opening credits were reminiscent of Se7en's, and the entire mood of the film was dark and mysterious enough.
It's a reasonable mystery thriller, so long as you don't poke your nose too far deep into the number 23. Remember, it's all fiction, and for all intents and purposes to make the movie work, just take it as it is, superficially at face value. The only pitiable gripe about the screening here is, in the name of profits and a general PG rating, much of the crucial scenes, some involving important snippets of dialogue, were left on the editing room floor - for reasons of nudity, violence and bloody gore. So if you're a stickler for such things, and mind you the censoring was badly done, you might want to opt for the DVD instead.
Be sure your sin will find you out - Numbers 32:23