It’s difficult to talk about a Joel Schumacher movie as one of the Worst Movies of All Time because as a rule it’s impossible for a single Joel Schumacher film to be worse than any other Joel Schumacher film. He has earned his Lifetime Achievement Award through a long career of unrelentingly terrible films. But if the make-believe Academy of Worst Things was dragging its non-existent feet in honoring Schumacher’s work, The Number 23 would be the film where everyone felt like enough was enough and they had to give the guy the recognition he deserved. At long last, he would get the Golden Punch in the Face that he’d worked so hard for. It is such a bad movie, you guys.
The Number 23 is a “thriller” (although I could count the thrills on Buster Bluth’s left hand) in which an unassuming dog-catcher (Jim Carrey) begins reading a used book from the book store called The Number 23. The more he gets into the book, the more parallels he finds the story has to his own life, and the more obsessed he becomes with the number 23, which he begins to see everywhere. He tries to track down the author (Topsy Kretts, because apparently Farty McDiarrhea was a little too spooky) to break the curse the number has put on him, and an old man tries to cut his head off at a Kinko’s, and then his wife wanders into an abandoned insane asylum by herself at night because that’s a totally normal thing that people do, and she finds Jim Carrey’s old saxophone in a steamer trunk which is how she knows that he’s actually the author of the book, and also a murderer, and Jim Carrey is like “Maybe I’ll just get hit by a bus and end it,” and his son is like “Dad!” so then Jim Carrey says “I’m not going to get hit by a bus because I’m tricking fate by making myself go to jail.” FACT: there’s no such thing as fate if you go to jail first. FACT: jail brings families together.
In watching the movie you’re supposed to be convinced that the number 23 is everywhere, and leads to madness, so the street address of the bookstore where Jim Carrey finds the book is 599 (5+9+9), and the story begins on February 3 (2/3), and a dog’s name is Ned (N=14, E=5, D=4). Except, it’s not spooky that some screenwriter sat in his room for six months counting out the numerical value of dog names, and it’s similarly unsurprising that a horrible actress has 23 pairs of shoes in her closet because SHE DOESN’T EXIST, and SOMEONE WROTE THAT NUMBER OF SHOES IN THE SCRIPT.
To be fair: “What are these shoes doing in the trash?” is funnier than anything Seth McFarlane has ever done, so there’s that. The other problem with the spooky number conceit is that the number 23 isn’t everywhere and doesn’t lead to madness, so within the first fifteen minutes you’re confronted with logic problems. For example:
I even tried to do weird math like subtract the 4 from the number of days in January (27), but it just doesn’t make any sense and I’m a nerd. It’s also frustrating how any variation on 23 counts? Because someone said so? So now I have to be scared of the number 32, and the number 23.5? No, David Blaine.
And then there’s the acting. You know, when Jim Carrey first took on a non-spastic acting job with the Truman Show, there was some concern over whether or not he’d be able to play a man whose body wasn’t governed by the laws of slapstick (for every action there is an equal and opposite kick in the balls.) And while Carrey did fine in Truman Show and the nation averted potential disaster, The Number 23 gives us a vision of what Carrey’s career might have been. He probably would have had to create an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind machine for himself to erase all the memories of his own career. Although the scene in which he discovers that he’s not a normal guy but a psychotic killer because there is a saxophone in his basement is SSSSSSSMOKIN’.
In the end, this probably isn’t the Worst Movie of All Time. It lacks the pretensions of a Southland Tales, the false morality play of a Death Sentence, or the animatronic aliens who shoot real lasers of a Baby Geniuses. Besides, like I said, if we’re going to start including Joel Schumacher movies than it’s basically just a race for the bottom. That guy’s the white M. Night Shyamalan.