Not one of the best but one of the most interesting films to come out this year, The Number 23 is a return to dark subject matter for both Jim Carrey and Joel Schumacher.
Best known for his failures, Schumacher will forever wear the albatross of the last two Batman monstrosities made before the whose series was thrown out and restarted, as well as having been critically panned for Falling Down, 8mm, and the Hitchcock riff Phone Booth.
Carrey, a longtime annoyance, has recently attempted to make good, much like Robin Williams, by abandoning his comic instincts and diving full-bore into the realm of the incredibly dark drama. His idiocy left behind, this harkens back to the well-crafted everyman he managed to portray so well in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Much like Williams, he continually reminds his viewers that his every return to comedy is a painful experience, only impressive in how unfunny it can be. The two would best be served to maintain their dark nature on film.
Carey plays another generic Anyman, going about his daily life, when he's drawn into a dark world by reading a book, "The Number 23", which bears too many similarities to his own life.
The ensuing thriller plays out fairly well, taking Carrey and his family, Virginia Madsen and Logan Lerman, along on a ride of increasing madness as the man is stretched to his mental limits, all played out well by the irritating comedian. He is exceptionally believable as a man on the edge, as the plot and the character unravel under the pressure put on them by the madness of the novel, which plays out in beautifully stylized and pulpy vignettes of the novel's passages, with Carrey and Madsen as characters.
Both the schlub and his dark fictional alter-ego, the detective known as Fingerling, move through their arc nicely, but there is something lacking in the way that the movie plays out at its end, somehow lacking the bite that the viewer expects or fulfilling the promise that the movie builds up in its tension. The ending comes and the twist isn't there, the shock doesn't exist, the climax is stunted, and the audience is left pleased but wanting the ending that would throw them entirely out of their seats.
Simply, it's Schumacher's best directorial work, easily surpassing the flat blandness of his early work like St. Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys or movies like A Time To Kill, Bad Company, or Phantom Of The Opera. The visual effects and style are fairly untried for Schumacher, who usually just points the camera and films, not really getting into such visual complexity. Its visual pallette harkens back to 8mm, but much more stylized and color saturated.
What the movie does lack feels like a hole where its heart should be, though what surrounds it is of interest, though I'm not sure how well it would bear repeated viewings.
At very least, it should prove enjoyable viewing for those who enjoy a good twisted mindfuck thriller.