Looking Back at Joel Schumacher’s The Number 23

Following his middling take on The Phantom Of The Opera, Joel Schumacher turned to the suspense thriller genre with The Number 23. Carley looks back in anger...

“Twenty-fucking-three.” – Suicide Blonde

The Recap

After staking a claim in the world of musical films, Schumacher’s next movie would see him dipping his toes into the widely popular suspense thriller with a twist genre. Unfortunately for Schumacher, what he would produce can only be described as one of the most awful examples of the genre I have seen to date.

Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) is an animal enforcement officer who is celebrating his birthday with wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) and son Robin (Logan Lerman). He receives a call about a stray dog that has been caught in the basement of a restaurant. When he arrives to catch it, he is temporarily blinded by the dog’s tag, which allows the dog to bite him and run away. Giving chase, the dog leads him to a cemetery where he comes across the grave of a girl named Laura Tollins.

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Having lost the dog in chase, Walter goes to meet his wife at a local bookstore where she is reading a book called The Number 23, which she eventually buys him as a birthday gift.

Once he starts reading the book, Walter begins to realise there are a lot of similarities between his life and the plot. The lead character’s name comes from his favourite childhood book and both have found their neighbours dead. He also reads with interest when the lead character in the book, Fingerling, meets with a so-called ‘Suicide Blonde’, whose obsession with the number 23 drives her to murder her boyfriend and commit suicide.

Intrigued by the origins of the book and the author, Walter goes back to the book shop and discovers the book was self-published and the author, Topsy Kretts never wrote anything else.

His obsession with the book leads Walter to imagine killing his wife and so he leaves home to stay at a hotel to clear his head. When he arrives, he stays in room 23 and finishes reading the book, which ends at chapter 22 and with the lead character deciding to jump to his death after killing his lover.

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The next day he sees the dog again and again chases him to the cemetery. This time he meets with a gardener who explains that the dog is nicknamed ‘the guardian of the dead’ and he is especially obsessed with Laura Tollins’ grave, as her body isn’t there as it was never found.

Researching her death, Walter discovers her murder was identical to the plot in his book and he visits her convicted murderer in prison, who claims he is innocent and it is, in fact, the author of the book who killed her.

Walter and his son discover a post office box address in the back of the book and they send 23 packages in an attempt to get the attention of the elusive author. When he is finally confronted by Walter, he tells him he should be dead and then kills himself.

Inside his pocket, Walter’s wife, Agatha, finds an ID card for an old abandoned asylum and, without Walter’s knowledge, visits it, finding a room filled with number 23 calculations and abox with Walter’s name on it.

While she is doing this, Walter and his son figure out the number 23 calculations in the book and finally discover the bones of Laura Tollins. They go and report their findings to the police, but when they arrive, the bones have vanished.  

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At home that evening, Walter confronts his wife, accusing her of the murder and moving the bones when he sees her washing dirt off her hands. She then accuses him with of being the murderer and shows him the contents of the box she discovered in the asylum.

Rushing back to the hotel room he stayed in previously, Walter rips the wallpaper off to discover the final chapter of the book, which he himself wrote and the memories of his life come back.

After his mother died, his father killed himself, which led Walter to become obsessed with the number 23. After falling in love with Laura at college, he was distraught when she began an affair with her professor and he murdered her and hid the body. The Professor was framed and sent to prison. Walter wrote the book as a confession and jumped out of the hotel window, but survived with memory loss and, after his release from the asylum, began a new life, forgetting about the crime he committed.

Thoughts and Reaction

If you have read everything above and are confused and bewildered you are not the first and you probably won’t be the last, because this stinker of a movie is so contrived and unbelievable it is difficult to explain the plot in a nice concise way that makes sense. Because, in reality, it makes no sense at all.

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It’s difficult to decide where to start on this movie. Each section it is made up of is a bad as the last, there are no redeeming features at all, and it literally stands out to me more as a parody of a suspense film than actually being one.

Firstly, the plot was is so flimsy a small gust of wind could knock it over and this is primarily because the entire narrative is based around the twist in the movie, a twist, I hasten to add, which is so ridiculous I am surprised it even made it past test audiences and onto the big screen.

There seems to be a big push for all movies to have a surprise twist since the success of The Sixth Sense, but as the career of M. Night Shyamalan tells us, you cannot make films that rely on the twists alone, and it is very rare to find a movie that does it really well.

The fact is the twist in this movie was awful. It wasn’t clever and it did nothing for what little story there was. If they had actually thought about the plot (which, in fairness, I don’t think anybody did) they could have had a half decent story with a twist that wasn’t so awful that may have worked in its favour.

Instead the audience is run around in circles, claiming that everything in the world more or less is linked to the number 23 and people are crazy and can fall out of windows and be redeemed by losing their memory. It is complete and utter drivel and it makes me so angry that movies with this awful a plot can get made and make poor unsuspecting audience members have to sit through it and waste a good couple of hours of their life they are never getting back.

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The other slap in the face when watching this movie is the casting. Although Jim Carrey has proved himself as a serious actor in the past (he is stunning in The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Man On The Moon) he is wooden and awful in this movie and, at any given moment, you expect him to turn on the funny and start bouncing around the place. It was a totally misguided role for him and I wonder if it hasn’t been the albatross around his neck career-wise ever since.

The awfulness of his performance really outweighs anything else the other actors throw at you and you completely forget what kind of performance they had because everything else is just so awful. It is like quicksand for the mind. All you feel is the terror of how bad it is, but know soon you’ll sink and it will be over.

Usually, when looking at a Schumacher film, if everything else is terrible (and there have been more than a few stinkers dotted along my journey of his films), at least the movie itself it nice to look at. Sadly, here all you get is constant darkness, migraine inducing flashing lights and Jim Carrey looking like an awful junkie. Any trace of style is removed and, although sometimes this can be good for the feel of a movie, in this case it could have been its only saving grace.

Upon its release, The Number 23 was slaughtered by the critics, but still managed to come in behind Ghost Rider on its opening weekend. However, word of mouth was not kind and the film only lasted in cinemas for 35 days before being pulled and the only plaudits it received were that of making the majority of the worst movies of the year tables.

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Undeterred by this box office flop, Schumacher decided to move onto another popular genre that was making a huge impact in cinema and next time I will be looking at the horror movie, Blood Creek.

The Number 23 Key Info:

Distributed By: New Line CinemaReleased: 23rd February 2007Budget: $30,000,000Box Office Gross: $77,566,815Best DVD Edition: The Number 23 (Unrated Infinifilm Edition)