If “The Truman Show”, ” Man on the Moon” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” were the only movies Jim Carrey had ever made, we’d barely remember his name, but when we did, we’d think of him as an Actor. That’s right. The capital “A” kind. But of course, those aren’t the only movies he ever made and they’re not what turned him into an eye-rolling, guffawing household name. It was, however, the caliber of those films and the possibility of a similar performance, which brought me to the theater for “The Number 23″.
The plot is basic enough. An ordinary guy with an ordinary life gets sucked into the psychosis of a novelist whose numerological obsession has overtaken his life. As Walter (Carrey) gets deeper into the book, he begins to envision himself and those around him as the characters within it. It’s in these heavy-handed and highly-stylized scenes from the novel that everything goes glaringly wrong with the film. Or deliciously right.
Like some overkill piece of film noir, the novel’s scenes are voice-overed to death by the brooding Detective Fingerling (also Carrey) and the light is manipulated to the point of distraction. What I suspect Joel Schumacher was going for was a dark and gritty aura of sex and death, something that would look like a Nick Cave song sounds. What he produced however, plays out like the lamest of embarrassingly cliché fantasies. Being yanked back and forth between Walter’s real-world disintegration and Fingerling’s detective novel swagger is distracting and simply doesn’t work.
The most surprising thing about “The Number 23″ isn’t this disconnect or its plot twists (just think overly simplistic Hollywood ending, with a tidy little bow) or how it’s been brutalized by the critics despite the fact that (audiences flock to worse films every day. Instead, it is that somehow in the ultra cheesy and laughably melodramatic scenes from the novel, Jim Carrey is actually, briefly kinda sexy.
Trust me when I say that having such a thought even enter my mind bothers me way more than it could possibly bother you. And just so you know, the moment they flashed on him holding a saxophone on a balcony in the rain, it got too cliché for even me. But as I left the theater, instead of weighing the movie’s good and bad points, or compulsively counting the stairs down into the foyer, I just kept thinking “How weird is it that Jim Carrey is kinda hot?”
See I’ve been there since the Fire Marshall Bill days of In Living Color, through every gross-out joke, manic pratfall and rubber-faced ribbing, and while I found him adorable in “The Truman Show”, brilliant in “Man on the Moon” and wrenching in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” I have never found Jim Carrey even remotely sexy before.So I started to wonder, at what point does a comedian give up his/her right to be sexy? How many fart jokes is one too many? Where is the line that once crossed, will get you laughed out of the auditions for a steamy romantic lead? And if a director is brave enough to actually ignore that line and throw the pheromone-rich Virginia Madsen in your direction, but the critics rip you up for stepping out of your goofball box and falling flat, do you ever get that kind of chance again?
I hope so, ’cause if “The Number 23″ was the first movie Jim Carrey ever made, I’d barely remember his name, but when I did, I’d think of him as kinda hot. And every once in a while, “kinda hot” is enough to get me into a theater.