Eric D. Snider

The Number 23

Movie Review

The Number 23

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C

Released: February 23, 2007


Directed by:


There are a lot of unbelievable elements in the psychological thriller "The Number 23," but most astounding is the idea that anyone could actually be psychologically thrilled by it. The story is melodramatic hooey. As a thriller, it's funnier than "Norbit." As a dramatic showcase for Jim Carrey, it's shallower than "Dumb & Dumber."

Under the bombastic, huge-and-goofy guidance of director Joel Schumacher ("Batman and Robin," "Phone Booth"), "The Number 23" wants us to accept two opposing things. One, it wants us to agree that Walter Sparrow (Carrey) is crazy for becoming obsessed with the number 23. Two, it wants us to be scared of all the spooky 23-related coincidences that pop up, just like Walter is. Now, we can find the 23 stuff eerie, or we can think Walter is insane for finding it eerie, but we can't do both. I know that, and I'm not even a logician.

Walter is a dog catcher in a medium-sized town who stumbles across a tattered, self-published book called "The Number 23" in a used-book store. His wife, Agatha (Virginia Madsen), had enough time while waiting for him one evening to read or skim the entire tome there in the shop; evidently Walter is a slower reader, as it takes him the next several days.

Granted, he gets sidetracked. The book is a pulpy detective story in which the P.I. sees a woman driven mad by the number 23's frequent occurrence in everyday life. Soon the detective is obsessed, too -- and so is Walter. For you see, the story seems to Walter like a slightly fictionalized version of his own real life.

So there are three mysteries afoot now. Is the number 23 truly a mystical, powerful number? Who wrote this novel? (The cover says "Topsy Kretts," obviously a pseudonym.) And are the similarities to Walter's life intentional or coincidental?

We see much of the book enacted through Walter's eyes, narrated by him and featuring himself and other characters playing their counterparts (he's the detective, Agatha is the femme fatale, etc.). It's a far-flung story, and meant to be a little over-the-top, but it's no more ridiculous than the movie we're watching, which was meant to be taken seriously.

The "23" coincidences are along these lines: The terrorist attacks happened on 9/11/2001, and 9+11+2+0+0+1=23. The Titanic sank on 4/15/1912, and 4+1+5+1+9+1+2=23. "George Herbert Walker Bush" and "William Jefferson Clinton" each have 23 letters. There are 23 letters in the Latin alphabet. Walter and Agatha met when Walter was 23, and his birthday is Feb. 3 (2/3).

I apologize if I have terrified you.

Agatha is at first amused, then alarmed, by Walter's obsession. Their adolescent son, Robin (Logan Lerman) -- yes, his name is Robin Sparrow -- thinks it's cool to be obsessive-compulsive with his dad. Family friend Isaac (Danny Huston), a college professor of some kind, lends counseling. But Walter just becomes more and more frenzied in his attempts to unravel the mysteries.

It's a pretty shaky premise to begin with, and the more Walter prattles on about the number 23, the more laughable it gets. Adding to the air of unintentional comedy are several loopy details in Fernley Phillips' screenplay: A dog that keeps showing up everywhere; a chance meeting occurring the very moment someone leaves a mental hospital; an old man and a post office box and 23 empty boxes.

Were they TRYING to make a movie worthy of ridicule and derision? No, I think this is just how Joel Schumacher makes movies. Like many of the most enjoyable bad movies, I can say this for it: It's never boring. But it's never thrilling, sensible, or believable, either.

Grade: C

Rated R, a few harsh profanities, some violence and blood, brief partial nudity and sexuality

1 hr., 35 min.

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This item has 18 comments

  1. Brandon says:

    The secret of 23 is...

    The 23 flavors in Dr. Pepper! Why didn't I see it before?

  2. B says:

    Does the dog have shifty eyes? If so, he's the one who did it.

  3. ClobberGirl says:

    Well, this is Joel Schumacher we're talking about. I know I'll never take him seriously again thanks to Batman and Robin. I was interested in seeing Jim Carrey do something other than comedy, but now I think I'd rather just look at tabloid pictures of him and Jenny McCarthy. Yeah, that sounds fun.

  4. Daveman says:

    I recently saw a preview for this in which a scholarly gentleman says "2 divided by three; .666....... the number of the devil" (loosely quoted cuz I dont care all that much.)

    Now I'm no math-uh-muh-tician, but doesnt the 6 repeat? .66666666...... If you stop after three 6's, aren't you supposed to round up, so it would be .667? If that thought ever occurred to Jim Carrey I bet it would ease his paranoia. Thats why movies need more math-uh-muh-tician types... :-)

  5. Greg says:

    Looks like they made a movie based on one plotline from Lost.

  6. Bridget says:

    Also, isn't it cheating to add up the dates of two disasters (9/11 and the Titanic) differently, and still call it a freaky coincidence? They kept the 11 intact when adding up 9/11, but split up the 15 for the Titanic date. Whatever happened to consistency in conspiracy theories?

  7. Momma Snider says:

    I just saw a commercial for this movie that said Ebert and Roeper gave it two thumbs up. All I could find was a review that said one of them is in the hospital so another reviewer had filled in for him, and that they gave it two and a half stars. So did Ebert and Roeper give it two thumbs up?

  8. Jess says:

    There are 2 thumbs up given by three people...23 thumbs up. Wow, that's soooo creepy!

  9. ClobberGirl says:

    My favorite is when I see a movie with "'THUMBS UP!' - Roger Ebert" on its packaging. I'm like... doesn't that mean the other one gave it thumbs down? Is that really something to be bragging about?

  10. Tyler says:

    B said, "Does the dog have shifty eyes? If so, he's the one who did it."

    Dead on brilliant. If anyone can write an enjoyably pointless, over-the-top movie it's duo Mel Gibson and Homer Simpson. Gotta love it.

  11. steve says:


    you bring a great point up , and this movie was a movie that lost me from the start, truly a terrible movie, one could never like horror/drama movies with the likes of Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler or Bill Murray. They have done too much comic relief to pull off serious movies. Stick to sophomoric humor and away from the seriousness.

  12. John Doe says:

    I just read the post about 2/3=0.666

    So according to this guys logic, he could ask for $100 and I can give him $0.10 and he'd be cool with that, right? Because the mark of the beast is 666, not 0.66666...

  13. mark says:

    everyone knows the book in the film ...yes?

    is it possible to get a copy ?

    not the real thing just like a pdf or like word document of it from the internet

    probably not but if anyone has a idea please let me know



  14. topsy krets says:

    Chapter 23. You can call me Fingerling. My real name is Walter. Walter Paul Sparrow. What you've read so far is not the whole truth. Much has been changed to protect the innocent... and the guilty. I once read that the only philosophical question that matters is whether or not to commit suicide. I guess that makes me a philosopher. You can say it was my inheritance. After my mother's death, my father couldn't cope. He didn't leave a not... just a number. That number followed me from foster home to foster home till college when I met her: Laura Tollins. I thought she'd help me forget my father's number. It was a mistake to think I could escape it. I loved her. And I thought she loved me. Until my father's number returned to haunt me. That [swear word] number... When I circled every 23rd letter of her note... it became clear. The number had gone after me. And now it wanted her. I was right. She was in danger. I just didn't realize the danger was me. What began as a suicide note, turned into something more. Much, much more. "He didn't leave a not... just a number." "not" should be note.

  15. JP says:

    The actual number of the beast was found to actually be 616 in about 1999. So the fact that this film was made 8 years after that discovery just shows how much effort they put into research.

  16. V.E.G. says:

    The first permanent coast-to-coast network in the United States was established by NBC on December 23, 1928. It has the Number "23" on it!

  17. Adam says:

    My brother was born on january 24. january 1st month 1-24=23. and my sister was born in ther year of 1985. 1+9+8+5=23 lol should i be scared.

  18. Condor says:

    At school the locker #23 is 2/3rds the way from my friends locker to that of my own; 2/3rds. Im born in 1994: 1+9+9+4=23. The dogs name in the movie is Ned: N14+E5+D4=23;thats one Nasty Evil Dog.

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