Carrey's ‘Number 23' loses sight of its potential

Reel to Reel

I don't need 23 words to sum up my feelings for the new Jim Carrey film &#8220The Number 23,” I can sum it up in two (OK, two and a half) - it's terrible.

This attempt by Carrey to branch out from his Ace Ventura persona isn't a &#8220Majestic” misstep - but it is still a rather silly exercise in that takes a decent premise and turns it into utter trash.

Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, a dog catcher who is given a book about a person cursed by the number 23 on his birthday. The more Sparrow reads the book, the more he is convinced that it is based on his life.

The obsession soon turns to madness, with Sparrow certain that he's part of the curse and determined to stop it.

&#8220The Number 23” begins with promise that quickly erodes.

Fernley Phillips really gets liberal with how things add up to 23 - turning it into more of a running joke than an ominous sign.

I've never been a fan of director Joel Schumacher, but I will say he never makes a film that isn't at least visually interesting. That is the case here as well, but even his style and look can't save a script that turns into a train wreck in the last act (I challenge you to not burst into laughter when the final twist is revealed).

Carrey isn't bad in a dual role (he also plays the character in the book that Sparrow is reading), but he really isn't asked to stretch his range much. Carrey still manages to make wisecracks even as his world is crumbling around him.

Virginia Madsen - who plays Sparrow's wife - is a talented actress, but she is forced to play a character who makes some of the dumbest decisions in recent cinema. It's the type of character who deserves to get killed in the opening five minutes of a film like &#8220Black Christmas.”

I went into &#8220The Number 23” with high hopes, but came away disappointed. This actually makes &#8220Ghost Rider” look good - something I wouldn't have thought possible last week.

DVD dandy of the week

This week's dandy is &#8220Stranger Than Fiction” (A), an absolutely charming romantic comedy with an all-star cast that was one of the most entertaining films of 2006.

&#8220Fiction” tells the story of Karen Effiel (Emma Thompson), an author writing her latest novel about an isolated IRS agent named Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). What Effiel doesn't realize is that the character is actually a real person, who one day begins to hear the author's voice narrating his life.

Crick begins a quest to find where the voice is coming from, but his time is running out since Effiel is closing in on the final chapter of her book - which ends with Crick's death.

The film's story suggests it was written by Charlie Kaufman - the man behind films like &#8220Adaptation” and &#8220The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” - and while &#8220Fiction” does playfully jostle with the standard ideas of narrative, I believe it does so in much better fashion than any of Kaufman's previous work. &#8220Fiction” writer Zach Helm creates a rather realistic world in a very strange and mystical situation. Even the payoff, which some may argue is a cop-out, fits nicely because it realizes its shortcomings without being too smug about it.

Helm's strong script is aided by superb direction from Marc Forster (pay attention to the seemingly random shots inserted throughout the film) and a top-notch cast.

Ferrell gives a performance that is a drastic departure from his &#8220Old School” persona, and he proves to be more than capable of answering that challenge. Thompson is also very good as the manic writer desperately trying to finish her work.

There are strong supporting performances as well. Dustin Hoffman has plenty of humorous moments as an English professor who tries to help Crick. Maggie Gyllenhaal is absolutely gorgeous as Crick's love interest, a free-spirited bakery owner being audited by the IRS.

&#8220Stranger than Fiction” is rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity and is now available on DVD.


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