Director Joel Schumacher, whose track record is less than stellar (the abysmal "Batman & Robin" was his baby), opens the film promisingly with creative lead credits. But like a poorly designed house of cards, "23" tumbles when it becomes apparent that the weak premise sports an even weaker plot. Tack another disaster on to Schumacher's cinematic belt.
Walter Sparrow (Carrey) is an animal-control officer who seems to enjoy a tranquil life. Things begin to tailspin for Walter when his wife (Virginia Madsen as Agatha) randomly comes across a weathered book -- entitled "The Number 23" -- that she believes her playful hubby will embrace.
As Walter immerses himself in the amateurish novella about a tattooed detective named Fingerling (also Carrey) and his growing obsession with the number 23, Walter begins to notice unsettling similarities between himself and the story's protagonist. Life imitates art as Walter's behavior grows erratic and he, too, becomes obsessed with the number 23 and the mysterious author.
Schumacher splits screen time between Walter and Fingerling, although the Fingerling scenes are blanketed with Carrey's dry voiceover and awash in gleaming light. It's a bit unnerving to see Carrey act the tough guy, sporting tank tops and thuggish tattoos. Although Carrey's performance is admirable, the character would have been better cast using an actor with more of a dark side (a la Kevin Bacon or Ray Liotta).
The biggest flaw with "23" is its insipid screenplay. The trailers and title promise a supernatural thriller along the lines of "The Sixth Sense," but Schumacher and company deliver a senseless dud. There's even the feeling that rookie writer Fernley Phillips completed the ridiculous script as part of a class project. Spooky.
If you're looking for meaning behind a number, go with the 10 bucks you can save by skipping this big-screen mess.