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The Number 23

Now that every thriller has to have a shocking, “I was a ghost the whole time” finale, the only way to judge the merit of each individual film is to look solely at the climax. The twist-ending movie (which by now is its own genre) is in many ways like a furtive sex act. Sure the buildup can be fun, and even offer some nice thrills of its own, but there can be nothing but frustration if the accumulated pressure isn’t released in a wholly satisfying way. When a twist sucks and is totally unearned, not only do you want a refund, but you also want back your emotional investment: “Who gives a shit if she was the killer’s daughter? I was here for two hours!” Sometimes the twist is so easy to spot, you can do nothing but hate the movie as you wait for other, less observant people to catch up: “He has two personalities. There, I’m outta here.” The fact is, this style of filmmaking is a delicate sort, one that must be done cleverly or risk furious blowback. If a viewer is dissatisfied with the close of the latest thriller, you can bet he won’t be a repeat customer, and will likely turn to finishing himself off with a midnight screening of The Usual Suspects. That all said, a new entry has emerged, trying to find yet another way to beeend our miiiiinds… The Number 23 is the latest thriller-yarn from director Joel Schumacher, who you might have seen running off with Batman’s testicles a decade ago. In this film, he attempts to explore the apparently ancient obsession with the number 23. According to famous mathematicians and homely astrology kooks alike, it has much numerological significance. Also, people claim to see it a lot in signs and crap. Some say it’s God’s checking account routing number, others believe it is the amount of Prince Albert piercings the Devil has. Either way, its mysteries have been begging to be used as a flimsy plot device for some time now.

Jim Carrey stars as Walter Sparrow, a happy suburban dogcatcher whose life has yet to take a spooky, unsuspecting turn…until now. After chasing down and confronting a strange dog, Walter finds himself late for a meeting with his somehow hot wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen). The tardiness gives the hand of fate enough time to put a weird red book, entitled “The Number 23,” (whoa) into the couple’s possession. Agatha reads the book quickly and dismisses it, but Walter takes his time, almost immediately seeing parallels to his own life. As he reads, the most unserious-sounding voiceover in film history narrates a live-action version of the book’s events.

In the book world, a private detective named Fingerling (also played by Carrey, but with slicked-back hair and tattoos) navigates a seedy underbelly of dark dames and suicide blondes on his way to learning about the fascinating connections of 23. Madsen plays a dual role as well, as Fabricia, a black-haired temptress who has a surprising amount of sex scenes with Fingerling. I’m serious, they grind and stuff. Anyway, after being told about the number’s eerieness, Fingerling begins to see it everywhere. He becomes outright obsessed with it. And, for a little while, so do us viewers. It is a fun exercise to find 23s in places that the film points out, like names, birthdates and Bible passages. In the film and especially in the extras, we learn of all the crazy people and historical tragedies associated with it. It’s pretty cool, and really as good a reason as any to rent this DVD.

In the real world, Sparrow is becoming obsessed with the number also. His resemblance to the character Fingerling has made him convinced that he is a part of the book, and thus, he sees some 23s where there previously were none. His son Robin (Logan Lerman) actually joins him on his quest, enthusiastically pointing out some that Dad may have missed. Agatha remains passive for awhile, shrugging off Walter’s obsessive behavior many times, but as Walter nears the end of the book, his insanity becomes more and more worrisome.

Up until the end, we switch back and forth from the film-noir setting of the novel to Walter’s real life, and with each passing day, the two seem more alike. The Fingerling scenes have a pretty sleek look to them (as is Schumacher’s style), and the edits are nicely paced. The setup device itself is pretty sharp, as far as twist films go, and I found myself really wanting to know what the hell was up. A sub-plot, secondary to the 23 angle, focuses on a murder that occurs in the novel that may also have happened for real. Sparrow believes that the numerology of the book may lead him to a killer on the loose. When found clues begin to support his theories, even his wife gets involved. All is well and good, and we are ready to be properly tripped out by what’s coming.

I could explain the whys and whats of this twist, as in why I hated it, and what exactly doesn’t make sense. However, I want to instead zero in on the how. Or, more to the point, how much. This ending sucks so much I feel it may ruin the endings of other movies by ripple-effect. It is such a godawful load of fly-speckled fat guy turds that it actually shames the good name of The Village. I cannot in good conscience disclose anything about it, but I can say that if bad twists are expected to be either contrived or stupid, this one is doubly bad. Even though Carrey is weird at first, and some of the dialogue is a bit hokey, this movie could have been more than decent. Instead, what we end up with in The Number 23 is about 75 minutes of admirable filmmaking, all destroyed by 20 minutes of the most unsatisfying, cheat ending ever to be written. Or is it 23? What could make up for such an abhorrent ending? How about a ton of featurettes and bonus stuff that goes through everything there is about the movie? This disc has a mind-blowing array of extras, each with its own charm. Some of the stuff is mundane and a little lame when figuring in how crappy the movie is as a whole. When actors talk about their “process” after you’ve just watched them eat shit for two hours, its hard not to laugh. Still, the bonuses on The Number 23 are really interesting at times and do much to uplift the movie’s status. If you like the idea behind the film, you’ll love some of the 23-related featurettes.

The DVD of The Number 23 is presented in Infinifilm™, which is on the cutting-edge of interactive film technology, and is sure to eventually strangle the life out of every movie you’ll ever love. It really helps with the boring patches. Basically, Infinifilm™ is a blanket term for “a bunch of special features that you can access while watching the movie,” as well as the features section itself. You can watch this DVD in its theatrical form, select the Infinifilm™ option, and whenever something happens onscreen that is related to one of the bonus segments, you can go right to it. Or, you can go to the Infinifilm™ bonus section, and watch the thing in its entirety.

Speaking of “theatrical release,” this film is brought to you in both rated and unrated form. I see no reason to watch a rated version of a movie at all. If an unrated option is there, which by definition features more material of a movie you like enough to watch, you should select it. It’s like if someone gave you a scoop of ice cream and said: “Do you want some more ice cream for free?” Who in hell would say no to that? Short of watching both versions carefully to detect differences (which I will not do), I can only speculate that some of the sex scenes were expanded from theatrical to unrated version. Jim Carrey is plugging away, and you can really see it. It happens like five times.

The bonuses (under the Infinifilm™ flag) are separated into two groups: “Beyond the Movie” and “All Access Pass.” The “All Access” section takes you to all the standard disc-option stuff, where is included a treasure-trove of deleted scenes, a director’s commentary, a making-of featurette, and another behind-the-scenes dalliance called “Creating the World of Fingerling.” Both the Making-of and “Fingerling” features are borrowed heavily by the Infinifilm™ format. That is, if you are watching the film in that mode, and Jim Carrey comes into the room wearing a blue shirt, a select option will appear that has the power to take you right to the portion of the Making-of section where Jim talks about how he chose that shirt. Pretty cool, no? I must also add that the “Fingerling” segment is very good stuff for anyone wanting to know about cinematography and shot choice. I can’t fault Schumacher there.

The deleted scenes are mostly bunk, and there is even an alternate ending, which I thought was sorely needed. Unfortunately, it is just a minute tacked on to the original ending, and is absolutely no help. Schumacher’s commentary is one of the more entertaining I’ve heard in a while, as he is an engaging guy despite his pretentious mediocrity. In this, he stays away from talking about his motivations and choices (as they have been covered too much in previous segments), and instead tells personal stories from the set. That should be the case for all commentaries.

See how much stuff there is? Now we finally get to the “Beyond the Movie” section, which is the fun part for everyone, regardless of whether they liked the film. It kicks off with a twenty-five minute documentary called “The Number 23 Enigma,” which has talking heads of mathematicians and the actors giving insight into the historical background of the number 23. It has been widely studied, I guess, and is supposedly pure evil. I didn’t know that. If you want some real chuckles, wait for Carrey and Schumacher to talk candidly about their “personal experiences” with 23. These guys couldn’t be more full of shit.

For the theatrical version only, there is the “Fact Track Trivia” feature, where the film plays out, and little “Pop Up Video” segments appear with facts you might care about that relate to what’s happening onscreen. This is fun, because it’ll point out for you the secret 23s that the filmmakers put in for kicks. Also, did you know Jim Carrey has worked with dogs before? That’s crazy talk. Thanks, Infinifilm™!

Finally, there is the most interactive and stupidly cool featurette on the disc. “How to Find Your Life Path Numbers” is an invitation with you to follow an unattractive female astrologer on a journey to find how your birthdate can create a number (1-9) that says everything about your life. For the record, my number is 5, which I share with Carrey himself. Fives are said to be extremely funny, smart people, and born entertainers. We love to give advice, but do not easily put up with other people’s crap. Especially yours, astrologer lady. Damn, I’m funny.

If only the ending of The Number 23 didn’t suck horses, we could discuss here how an interesting concept-thriller became the party-DVD of the year. With all this stuff going on, and the 23s of the world finally being exposed, the thing could’ve provided hours of rainy-day fun. I’m not sure if it would be good or bad for Infinifilm™ to wrap its tentacles around a classic release, but we shall see. I’m sure every movie coming out in the next few years will go with it, and we’ll find out the hard way. As for this film in particular, I can only liken it to my bedroom experience in high school with my second girlfriend. I should’ve told her then, but I’ll tell her now: If you’re going to start something good, you’d damn well better finish it good.