A numerological, super-dumb-ological thriller,

The Number 23

boasts a deadpan voice-over from a sedate Jim Carrey, a plot that could have been a

Twilight Zone

episode (and maybe was), and more hammy, unintentional hoots than a bad night at a comedy club.

Carrey stars as Walter Sparrow, a mild-mannered dogcatcher who gets a book called The Number 23, starts reading it, and is quickly wowed by the so-called 23 enigma - significant events and people connected to the digits, like Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times, Shakespeare was born and died on April 23, each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to a child's DNA, and David Beckham wears the number 23.

Not to mention that the bus that goes by in the movie is Route No. 23. Heavy, dude!

Furthermore, and farther-fetched, the book seems to be about a character - a gumshoe named Fingerling - whose childhood, and childhood tragedies, echo those of Walter's. As he's drawn deeper and deeper into the red-covered book - a birthday present from his wife (Virginia Madsen) - Walter begins to lose his hold on reality, popping his eyes paranoiacally, spooking his heretofore eagerly sympathetic teenage son (Logan Lermin), and creeping out his spouse, who he suspects is having an affair with their close friend, Isaac (Danny Huston).

Directed by Joel Schumacher, the Batman & Robin/Phantom of the Opera helmer who once again displays more interest in clothes and sets than making sense, The Number 23 is untethered from the real world in every way. Walter's job seems like a joke (especially when he begins to be menaced by a mystery pooch), the tricky mathematical puzzles never add up, and the pulpy Raymond Chandler pastiches are more parody than potent.

Along with dual roles for Carrey - long-haired milquetoast animal control officer and hardboiled, tattooed, sex-maniac detective - Madsen and Huston get to play parallel characters. She's a raven-haired femme fatale in the world of the novel, and he's a mustached lover whom Fingerling frames for a murder. Also appearing in the cartoonishly noir segments from the book: Lynn Collins, as a person referred to as "Suicide Blonde." Yes, she's a blonde who kills herself, but not before she gets all sexy with Fingerling.

So, add up the letters in the names Fingerling and Suicide Blonde, I dare you.

Yup, 23.


The Number 23 *1/2 (out of four stars)

Produced by Beau Flynn, Fernley Phillips and Tripp Vinson, directed by Joel Schumacher, written by Phillips, music by Harry Gregson-Williams, photography by Matthew Libatique, distributed by New Line Cinema.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.

Walter Sparrow/

Fingerling. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . . Jim Carrey

Agatha Sparrow/

Fabrizia. . . Virginia Madsen

Isaac French/

Dr. Miles Phoenix. . . Danny Huston

Parent's guide: R (violence, disturbing images, sexuality and profanity)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.