The Number 23 (2007) (part 1 of 4)
So, at long last, it’s time to talk about the bad things that the movies did to me this past February. I’m talking about how I sat down and intentionally watched every single Razzie-nominated film from 2007, all in the space of a few weeks. I’ve finally recovered enough to share a little bit of what this traumatic experience was like.
Because there’s no way I can recap all 25 movies before it’s time to start handicapping next year’s nominees, I’m going to begin presenting a select handful of these films as Screencap Recaps: Basically, I’m going to present the movie to you entirely through screencaps and captions. I think this gives a pretty good idea of what the movie is like without having to go into trademark Agony Booth-style excruciating detail.
I’m starting with The Number 23 for no particular reason. It wasn’t even nominated for that many Razzies—just a Worst Actor nomination for Jim Carrey. And after watching all 25 Razzie-nominated films, I still think Joel Schumacher was robbed. He wasn’t even nominated for Worst Director.
I’d like to make it clear I’m not some Batman fanboy full of seething hatred for Joel Schumacher. Yes, I wrote an extensive recap of Batman & Robin way back when, and yes, to this day I still consider it one of the dumbest big-budget films ever made. But let’s remember that Joel Schumacher didn’t make the movie all by himself. And since then, he’s done a great deal to atone for his sins—including recording a commentary track for Batman & Robin that I understand is basically a two-hour apology (relax, I’ll be looking at that more in-depth very soon).
And that recap was written almost six years ago, and I really can’t bear a grudge for that long over one silly movie. In the end, it’s just a movie. He didn’t murder anybody in my family.
Having said all that, I still dislike the vast majority of Schumacher’s films. Probably the only one I really liked was Falling Down, but even that had major storytelling flaws. The big problem with Schumacher’s films is that they’re always flashy style over substance. It’s like he picks scripts specifically because they don’t have much of a story, just to give himself an excuse to go over the top with visual trickery. (In that respect, he’s a lot like Tim Burton, actually, so it’s easy to see why Warner Bros. picked him to take over the Batman franchise.)
The Number 23, the first film to reunite Schumacher with his Batman Forever star Jim Carrey, is no exception. There’s about 45 minutes of story in here, if that, and it’s padded out to movie length with excessive flashbacks, dream sequences, and “story-within-the-story” fantasies. The movie certainly looks great, no doubt about it, but there’s a lot more to telling a story than stringing together slick music videos masquerading as scenes.
The film is based on a very thin concept: the “23 Enigma” (once featured prominently in the Illuminatus! Trilogy), which says that the number 23 occurs with incredible regularity in historical events and in everyday life. Like, if you add up historical dates, you’re very likely to get 23. Or if you assign a number to every letter in the alphabet, and then add up famous people’s names, you’ll probably get 23.
I have yet to come across anyone who takes this idea seriously, or thinks there’s even the slightest bit of merit to it, so I won’t bother debunking it. I’ll only say that, much like any conspiracy theory, it’s a prime example of selection bias. That is, only presenting evidence that proves your point, and ignoring all evidence to the contrary. When you cherry pick all the historical dates that add up to 23, it sure seems impressive—way more impressive than when you include all the dates that add up to other numbers.
But unlike other conspiracy theories, I can’t tell you what the point of the 23 Enigma is. Is it saying that some organization is deliberately making sure events happen on 23-specific dates? Or that some supernatural force is responsible? And if so, then… what? Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Benevolent? Sinister? In short, what is 23, and what does it mean to me?
That’s the undoing of The Number 23, the movie, because even if you accept that the 23 thing is completely real (in this movie’s universe, at least)… well, so what? And what then? The movie never comes up with a compelling answer. It tries to suggest something about the number 23 driving people insane, but it never makes any sense, because Schumacher is too damn busy being flashy to connect all the dots.
Jim Carrey got a Razzie nomination for Worst Actor for this. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. I think he only deserved half a nomination, because this is a dual role. And he’s okay in at least one of his roles, as an everyday guy who suddenly becomes unhinged. It’s when he becomes a hard-boiled noir detective in the “story-within-the-story” that he’s hopelessly out of his element.
Virginia Madsen plays his wife, and she too has a second role, as a femme fatale. Unfortunately, she’s out of her element, too. I think she’s damn sexy, and I’ve been an admirer of hers going all the way back to 1984’s Electric Dreams. Madsen got stuck in genre hell for most of her career after appearing in movies like Candyman (where an inside source tells me she risked certain death from bee stings) and Highlander II. Recently, she’s moved up to A-List/High B-List status, thanks to her Oscar nomination for Sideways. But I gotta admit: she’s just too… matronly for the role of the seductive temptress. And shiksa Madsen is playing an Italian temptress, no less.
But the cast is really the least of this movie’s problems. The biggest problem is that it takes a lightweight concept, stretches it out to movie length, and in the process creates dozens of plot holes. And of course, in this post Shyamalan-era, every dark psychological thriller has to have a stupid twist ending you can see coming a mile away. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’ll come out in gory detail in this Screencap Recap.
|The Number 23: A Razzie Screencap Recap!|
|So, right off the bat in the opening credits comes a litany of all the times 23 appears in history. Like here, where we learn Hiroshima was nuked on 8/6/1945, and 8 + 6 + 1 + 9 + 4 – 5 = 23. Got it? You probably do. But just in case, you’ll get 30 more examples in the credits alone. And all the stuff mentioned in the credits gets repeated in the actual movie.|
|The Titanic sank on 4/15/1912. And 4 + 1 + 5 + 1 + 9 + 1 + 2 = ? Who would like to come up to the board and solve this equation?|
|Very good! You just earned yourself a gold star!|
|They also believed it would start with an earthquake. And Lenny Bruce would not be afraid.|
|See, it all makes sense: 9 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 0 + 0 + 1 = … 14? Wait, let me check that again.
Nope, I’m still getting 14.
So… in this particular case, we’re not supposed to add the two digits of the day? We had to add the 1 and the 5 in 4/15/1912 to get 23, so why not the 1 and the 1 in 9/11? You don’t think they’re fudging things to support a weak, half-assed theory, do you?
|So, the credits are over. It’s barely two minutes into the movie, and the “23” motif has already pummeled me into submission. Then we get it again. This is not only taking place on 2/3, but it’s also the main character’s birthday: He’s turning 32, which is 23 backwards. We still have over 90 minutes of this to go.|
|Jim Carrey plays a dog catcher. That’s right, a dog catcher. This is not promising. How many good movies feature a dog catcher as the lead? Hint: The answer is not 23.|
|Carrey is voicing over the February 3 scene, making it appear to be a flashback, but in the middle of it, Carrey flashes back to another flashback, on another anvil-licious date.|
|Jim is at his office Christmas party, and he calls one of his coworkers a bitch. It’s dog catcher humor, you see. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go over well. She looks about as amused as somebody who just paid to see The Grinch.|
|Returning to the 2/3 flashback, we find out the bitch is also the animal control dispatcher, and she’s also one vindictive bitch, because she sends Jim out on one last call, even though it’s five minutes to quitting time on his birthday.|
|Jim goes to pick up a stray bulldog, and gets distracted by the dog’s shiny name tag that says NED…|
|…allowing the dog to munch down on his arm. I hope Jim wanted rabies shots for his birthday.|
|The dog runs off to a nearby cemetery, and a determined Jim Carrey follows. Eventually, the dog sits down and stares at one particular tombstone. I wonder if this is significant in some way.|
|Cut to Jim’s wife, Virginia Madsen. She’s waiting for him outside a bookstore called “A Novel Fate”. And if you think that name is the height of cleverness, just check out the bookstore’s address. You know what it adds up to. Don’t make me say it.|
|There in the stacks, in plain sight, just calling to her, is a self-bound book titled The Number 23. She looks almost hypnotized as she walks towards it. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as self-publishing.|
|Madsen decides this creepy-looking book will make a simply marvelous birthday gift for her husband. The issue of how the book ended up here in this particular bookstore will Never Be Explained™.|
By the way, Jim Carrey has been voicing over these scenes, talking about how it was all crazy fate that led him to this book. He takes great care to explain that if he hadn’t called his coworker a bitch six weeks ago, she wouldn’t have sent him out on one last call, and then he wouldn’t have been late to meet his wife, and then she wouldn’t have found the book. But the issue of fate/destiny never comes up again, which means this is all padding.