Reading Kills 

The Number 23: Ace Ventura vs. Literacy!

If I were a librarian, I'd be pissed. Here I am, spending all my time doing two things: Having socially unacceptable, intricately detailed fantasies involving the Dewey Decimal System, and trying to get kids to read. And after all my literacy programs and all my Lemony Snicket, that goddamn The Number 23 comes along and scares kids away from reading. For life. Why? Because there's this book called The Number 23, and it's haunted! (Oooooooo! A haunted boooooook!)

Jim Carrey plays Walter, a friendly neighborhood dogcatcher (they still have those?), a swell husband to his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen), and a great father to his son (Logan Lerman). UNTIL, that is, Agatha buys Walter The Number 23—a HAUNTED BOOK! (Oooooooo!) Walter soon becomes obsessed, finding all sorts of strained coincidences between himself, the novel's narrator, and the number 23. The number, it turns out, pops up all over the place, or at least it does once Walter starts maniacally searching for it: in his birthday, in his Social Security/driver's license numbers, in lame math puzzles that somehow extrapolate "two" and "three" from everything. (Yes. Even 9/11. Sigh.) Somehow this leads to an alternate version of Walter (this one's eeeevil—he has tribal tattoos!), and Walter spirals into paranoia and—

Ah, fuck it. The only reason the astonishingly silly The Number 23 was made is because Carrey really, really wants to be taken seriously, so it's fairly unfortunate that he's the film's biggest and most unintentional running joke. Carrey can be good when he's well cast and directed—look no further than Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But here, Carrey's merely showing off his "I'm a serious actor" expressions—moody, introspective, troubled, intense, etc.—and they just look like a schizophrenic Ace Ventura trying really, really hard to be taken seriously. Blame 23's director, Joel Schumacher, who crafts films with all the grace and subtlety of a retard with a mallet. Schumacher's "psychological thriller" is neither psychological nor thrilling; it's simply an increasingly annoying parade of twos and threes—and by the 23rd, or 223rd, or 2,323rd time that Carrey waves his little haunted book in front of the camera (Oooooooo!), I'd seen no fewer than five people walk out of 23's advance screening. I wish I could tell Schumacher that, but my hunch is he'd just say something about how isn't it creepy that five equals two plus three and did I notice his movie's coming out on the 23rd and then he'd shake a haunted book at me. "Oooooooo!" he'd say. Then I'd leave. But if I was a librarian, I bet I'd do something worse.

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