Reading the universal pans that this Joel Schumacher-directed Jim Carrey thriller is receiving reminded me of an idea for a TV show I heard Trey Parker and Matt Stone joke about a few years back. It would be called Who Made Stinky?, they said, and after interviewing everyone involved in the making of a sh—y movie that should have been good, it would determine who’s to blame for the stinker.
Perhaps The Village Voice’s Nathan Lee, who offers, by far, the best plot summary, would say it’s first-time writer Fernley Phillips: “The plot is beyond complicated, but it basically comes down to this: Omigod, 23! Omigod, 23!! Omigod, 23!!! Yet, for all its relentless number-crunching, this is really a movie about storytelling, and stories within stories, and stories within flashbacks within fantasies within madness — all of it unloaded with the help of exposition so preposterously contrived it borders on parody.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Eleanor Ringel Gillespie faults the man at the helm: “The true culprit is director Joel Schumacher, of Batsuit nipple fame. Schumacher knows The Number 23 should look like something by one of the Davids — Lynch or Cronenberg. But he himself is a dismally pedestrian artist. Lacking their innate weirdness, all he can do is emptily ape their style. And no one wants to watch a by-the-numbers hack job — even if the movie is called The Number 23.”
The Washington Post’s Stephen Hunter, meanwhile, goes with a conspiracy theory: “Director Joel Schumacher and cinematographer Matthew Libatique are Carrey’s enablers. Schumacher gives the movie a jittery quality, as if he’s having a nervous breakdown, too, and a symptom seems to be that he puts lights in strange places. Libatique is also having a nervous breakdown, and his symptoms include the urge to splatter O-negative red everywhere.”
The critics naturally enjoyed making math puns — variations of “this movie doesn’t add up” being the most popular — but Las Vegas Weekly’s Josh Bell takes it the furthest with his “Twenty-three things to look for while watching The Number 23.” My personal fave: “The 23rd minute. It comes right after the 22nd, and before the 24th.” The Arizona Daily Star’s Phil Villarreal also offers his “Twenty-three reasons to avoid wasting your time with The Number 23. Sample: “Many scenes feature the Carrey character staring into a book. Gripping stuff.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Colin Covert, on the other hand, makes it sound slightly morelively but just as stupid: “In woozy fantasy sequences combining theworst of soft porn and film noir, dream-Carrey sports greasy hair, awife beater tank shirt and skinny arms covered with thorn tattoos. He’sa twerp’s fantasy of a tough stud. The sight of him all butched up andsweaty is presented as an intensely powerful aphrodisiac, and hefeverishly mauls hussies on rumpled sheets or against the walls oftrash-strewn apartments. It’s so cheesy that it’s almost transcendent.”
In the end, one can say the film succeeds in eliciting strong reactions. Some are passive aggressive: Internet Reviews’ Steve Rhodes gives the film two-thirds of a star. Some are violent: CHUD’s Devin Faraci says, “The Number 23is a movie as bad as any I have seen this decade. It is guaranteed aspot on my ten worst list because if there are ten other movies worsethan this one this year I will put my eyes out with my thumbs likeOedipus, and without the benefit of even having gotten laid.” And someare just plain weird: “The Number 23… is a 95-minute movie that takes 20 minutes to explain its ‘shocking premise,’” says Richmond.com’s Mike Ward. “That’s not a good ratio; it’s kind of like a stripper agreeing to do a $5 lap dance to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’” Huh?