A convoluted and rather dull affair, "The Number 23" is one of those serious Jim Carrey vehicles but without the smarts or originality. The result is a tired psychological thriller which takes the mathematically interesting premise of natural phenomena that tie in with the number 23, and then proceeds to mix it up with a "Singing Detective"-esque noirish murder mystery.
Jim Carrey stars as a man whose life unravels after he comes into contact with an obscure book titled The Number 23. As he reads the book, he becomes increasingly convinced that it is based on his own life. His obsession with the number 23 starts to consume him, and he begins to realize the book forecasts far graver consequences for his life than he could have ever imagined.
The trouble is neither the murder mystery or the numerology macguffin is particularly interesting - the former simply overbaked and filled with dead ends which eventually lead to a very predictable outcome, the later a cute riddle that often simply stretches itself too far in a desperate attempt to prove itself.
Fernley Phillips screenplay lays some interesting ideas on the table, but is self-conciously clever with far too many visible attempts to hide the fact that the 23 gimmick and murder story are tenuously connected at best.
The result is neither a strong psychological study of its lead character, nor a compelling edgy thriller. Carrey, Madsen, Huston all seem miscast in their various guises - especially the noir fantasy world generated from the book's readings. Carrey with long hair and tattoos and Madsen as an Italian femme fatale seem more like they're playing dress-up much of the time - struggling to give essentially hollow character some meaning. The more present day events yield a better result with an interesting but sadly underexplored family dynamic. Lerman simply looks happy to be there and chuffs along like a Hardy boy in training.
Director Joel Schumacher has shown in the past that given the right script and story, he can be a compelling thriller movie director. With him onboard this he's able to give the film a visually rich palette - but struggles to find a coherent narrative from the screenplay. That lack of focus spills over into other aspects of the production with scenes coming off as visually arresting but never conforming to a consistent style.
That, combined with all the jumping around of the narrative yielding an inconsistent pacing, makes the endeavour tricky and tedious to follow. It's a dark and dirty little movie that sadly is lacking the brains or depths it very much begs its audience to recognise that it has. There's an interesting idea in here, a high concept which makes for good script sales, but like most high concept stuff it forgets that a strong central idea is useless without compelling characters or a solidly structured plot. All ultimately very tedious and a big disappointment considering those involved.