“The Number 23” 15 Years Later: So Ridiculous It’s Charming

Several years after his peak as the undisputed comedic king of the box office, and years before his decline into making creepy internet videos addressed to Emma Stone, Jim Carrey (like many other comedic actors) went through a phase where he wanted to try his hand at more dramatic roles.  It had worked for the likes of Robin Williams, who turned out amazing performances in Good Will Hunting, Insomnia, and One Hour Photo (all of which were very different from his usual comedic persona).

For Carrey, the critical acclaim followed him with movies like Man on the Moon, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Following this, he tried his hand in a more horror/thriller type role, and the result was 2007’s The Number 23.  Released to pretty abysmal reviews, The Number 23 didn’t exactly go over well.  It received a Razzie nomination for Worst Actor, and to this day holds an appalling 8% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Now just to be clear, no one is here arguing that The Number 23 is a good movie by any stretch of the imagine.  It’s absolutely ridiculous, farfetched, its twist falls apart when you think about it, and it takes itself very, very seriously.

N23 Cover
The advertisements definitely implied it was some sort of supernatural thriller.

However, there’s a certain charm to a movie that goes this all-in with its level of absurdity (especially coming from the same director who gave us Batman and Robin).  So in honor of its 15th anniversary, we thought it would be fun to revisit The Number 23 and see if there’s any merit to be found in this very flawed film.

Suspension of Disbelief
Can we stop and address the 23 elephants in the room?  The premise of this movie is kind of insane.  We have Walter Sparrow (played by Jim Carrey)  who works as a dog catcher, who comes to find a book titled “The Number 23” which sends him down the rabbit hole of the 23 enigma (which is a real conspiracy theory).

It also features a great ensemble cast with the likes of Virginia Madsen and Danny Huston who legitimately give it their all and deliver their ridiculous lines with all the same gravitas and seriousness as a much better movie.  Even Carrey manages to give a good performance, despite working with subpar material.

N23 1
There’s an entire “in novel” subplot that gives of a real film noir vibe. But it plays out more like a parody, which may or not have been the point.

Part of the movie is just him going through this book, thinking that it’s about him, and part of it is about his family indulging him far more than anyone would in this scenario.  It goes to the point that they’re trying to dig up bodies and he’s getting paranoid about people following him and plotting against him.  The movie itself has the real potential to be a great paranoid thriller or supernatural mystery, and it kind of commits to neither.

What a Twist! (Spoilers, But Who Cares)
Then of course we get the revelation that Walter Sparrow wrote the book himself, revealing that he committed murder but just didn’t remember.  Of course the movie never addresses up to that point that apparently he had zero memories of his life before meeting his wife at the age of 23, which is something you’d think would come up during his deep dive into his past with the book.

N23 4
Also, the man who was wrongfully accused should definitely recognize Walter as the boyfriend of the victim.

The point is, the movie sets itself up for the whole 23 enigma to actually mean something but it never really does.  Instead it just goes for the Fight Club ending where it was the main character all along but they didn’t know.  There are plenty of flawed movies out there, but for one to screw up this badly, this frequently, it almost seems intentional.

Unique Charm
Which brings us to the real reason why this movie is as much an enigma as the numerology principle it features.  It has all the wrong ingredients: a plot that’s hard to take seriously, a twist that makes no sense, and an overall theme that relies heavily on coincidence (you could pick any random number and find a bunch of things that add up to it).

But somewhere among all this is an absolute gem that I swear knows exactly what it’s doing.  When asked about the abysmally received Batman and Robin, Joel Schumacher defended it, stating that it was a comic book movie and he understood that to mean it should have a certain measure of camp to it.  And while he never admitted it while he was still alive, an argument could be made that he’s almost doing the same thing here.

A movie that essentially spends its runtime throwing random numerical coincidences at us and trying to make it scary either knows exactly what it’s doing, or it lacks more self-awareness than Tommy Wiseu did making The Room. And the performances by everyone are so good that they actually kind of elevate the overall silliness of the premise itself.

There are movies where absolutely nothing works, and then there are movies where absolutely nothing works in such glorious harmony that you can’t help but wonder if it was on purpose.  And by that point in his career, Schumacher had very few f**cks left to give and it wouldn’t be surprising if he saw how absurd the script was and just decided to run with it.

N23 5
Unpopular Opinion: Joel Schumacher was a better director than he gets credit for. People didn’t always like the campy material he made, but it was never done because of poor directing. Every decision he made was deliberate, just not always what audiences wanted to see.

Granted, you have to be in the right state of mind to sit down and watch it, but if you are, it makes for a genuinely fun experience.  It’s not that it’s poorly made in terms of dialogue (well maybe a little), set design, or visuals.  In all of those areas, it’s actually pretty intriguing.  Schumacher’s background in production design usually results in quality returns.

Rather, it’s a fun movie to watch chuckle at just how crazy a concept it wants to run with and there is a legitimate charm to going down that rabbit hole for an hour and a half.  It’s a movie that tries so hard to make itself sound smart, that there’s a real humor in how dumb it all turns out to be.  But perhaps that’s just my own optimistic analysis and there was no satirical intention whatsoever.  We’ve all certainly laughed at this movie before, but maybe the movie was always laughing along with us!

What did you think of The Number 23?  Let us know in the comments!

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