Jim Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, a man whose surburban wife-'n'-teenage-kid life begins to unravel when he comes into contact with a mysterious book which carries the title of the film: Number 23. The tatty, self-published novel triggers a feverish numerological obsession in Sparrow, who begins to see associations with the number everywhere he looks. The more he reads, the more he becomes drawn into the gloomy, seedy world of the book's author, with whom Sparrow identifies heavily. Moreover, it becomes apparent that the book's author is not just an author of a disturbing book, but that he or she was involved in a grizzly crime.
The film culminates in a confusing whodunnit/goose-chase. I've seen the 'unexpected twist' of who the culprit is so many times in other recent films that I remember commenting on it before having seen Number 23. If that's a spoiler, then the film-making studios are to blame for overusing this particular trendy theme to a ludicrous degree. I can't imagine I'm the only one who thought "not again!"
I find numerology to be laughable nonsense, but moments in this film left me with genuine unease as Sparrow continued his downwards mental spiral in pursuit of the number. There are some splendid pieces of camera work and general cinema wizardry in this film, particularly the clever juxtapositions of Sparrow's bright and orderly life and the shadowy, grimy world that the book reveals to him. There is an element of style over substance in Number 23, though. It never grounds itself long enough to become, if not believable, than at least a world in which the viewer can become immersed.
Carrey has come a long way since his Mask and Ace Ventura days. He's successfully left behind the endless aping and gurning that put a lot of people off in his early days, without sacrificing the energy and screen presence that make his material infectiously watchable. Long may the man behind the Mask continue to develop and flourish. Although he might seem like an odd choice for a noirish film like this, his performance as the character increasingly tormented by the ever-present number is just the ticket.
Good for Carrey and visuals, but generally forgettable otherwise.