What happens when a dogcatcher gets so freaky-obsessed about a certain number that it takes over his entire life? Well, if it’s Jim Carrey playing the pooch-snatcher in the deeply demented The Number 23 directed by Joel ("No Trick Too Cheap") Schumacher, what happens is that he starts to see the world in violent, color-saturated fetish-y Frederick’s of Hollywood-meets-Victoria’s-Secret-type fashion shoot flashbacks in which he tries to act all sexed-up, sweaty, tattooed and existential – often while dragging around a saxophone.
Carrey is fatally miscast but, really, what's a star to do in a movie that tries to sell such absurdities as a rough sex-loving hottie called "Fabrizia" whom he ties to a cheap hotel bed and who urges him, "Pretend you have a knife!" and another bewigged femme fatale who over-emotes lines like, "Do you know what pink is?"
The insane fun kicks off from the first scenes when a stray dog chomps Carrey’s scary-eyed Walter Sparrow in the line of duty. Since we’ve just seen Carrey bizarrely making cat sounds at a harmless dog and its owner, we worry about the stray dog’s health because clearly this guy is rabid. We forgive him, though, because it’s the poor sap’s birthday. To celebrate the event, his ambiguously motivated cake shop owner wife Virginia Madsen inexplicably gifts the emotionally sketchy Carrey with a self-published book titled The Number 23 by, no kidding, "Topsy Kretts." The book, with which our hero becomes obsessed because it’s so weirdly autobiographical, is a cheery little tome filled with murder, suicide, insanity and a tough-talking detective who narrates dialogue that aims for the sound of classic film noir but ends up sounding more like Bugsy Malone. He’s suddenly seeing the significance of 23s in every event in his life, telling Madsen, "It’s like the book is imitating my life! I see the number … I see it everywhere!" To her credit, Madsen keeps a straight face because we sure as hell don’t.
Carrey attends a birthday bash thrown by Madsen’s professor friend, the ever-unctuous Danny Huston, whom Carrey later asks, "So, what is this number 23? Is it … God?" During the same party, a female co-worker boozily tries to drag Carrey into the bathroom, inviting him to "wag your tail at me." But Carrey has no time to mess around, what with his yammering on and on about the conspiratorial curse of the number and his paranoid trips to his CGI-heavy haunted past where, in one hilarious scene, he interrupts screwing hot-to-trot "Fabrizia" on the floor to stare at her closet, saying, "You have 23 pairs of shoes!" Since when are 23 pairs of f***-me pumps a buzzkill?
But it isn’t only Carrey sent over the deep end by the devilish number because soon Madsen is doing loony things like trekking alone to the ruins of a creepy insane asylum, where she not only conveniently finds lots of candles to light her way but also just happens to find a highly incriminating case file that helps solve the mystery of her husband's conspiracy-laden numbers game. Then, there’s their son named "Robin Sparrow" (yes, really and played by Logan Lerman) whom Carrey enlists to help dig a deep hole in which they find a skull and other human remains; after summoning the skeptical police, the bones, of course, go missing, leading the kid to make the brilliant observation, "Skeletons can’t just get up and walk away!"
Maybe the skeleton's lucky enough to have the same agent as Harold and Maude star Bud Cort whose name, despite a fairly showy role in this dogpile of a movie, apparently got up and walked away from the credits. As scripted by first-timer Fernley Phillips and helped not one bit by Schumacher, the whole thing ends badly, bloodily and hilariously for the characters and disastrously for the actors involved. The Number 23 may have desperately wanted to be another Se7en but it's strictly a big Number 2.