For his gleefully postmodern Adaptation screenplay, Charlie Kaufman invented a fictional twin brother (Donald) in part to satirize Hollywood schlockmeisters eager to convert gimmicky scripts into fat paydays. Kaufman nailed the blithe opportunism of Joe Eszterhas types so indelibly that his brother "Donald" somehow scored an Oscar nomination for "co-writing" Adaptation. Though the script for the jaw-droppingly idiotic thriller The Number 23 is credited to Fernley Phillips, it doesn't seem far-fetched to hypothesize that it was actually written by Donald Kaufman and an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic after a long night of Jäger shots following a Robert McKee lecture. The Number 23's suspicious resemblance to The Three, Donald's equally convoluted opus, goes far beyond the numeral in the title.
Jim Carrey stars as a wisecracking dogcatcher—an excellent starting point for a moody psychological thriller with heavy-handed David Lynch undertones—who stumbles upon a book whose lead character eerily resembles himself, with a few minor differences. The book character, for example, is a detective instead of a dogcatcher, and he plays the saxophone, has nasty-dirty sex with a black-haired femme fatale (Virginia Madsen), and boasts the kind of tribal tattoos ubiquitous among American college students. (And to a lesser extent, Maori tribesmen.) Such a ridiculous plot device—rendered even more insulting by dramatizations of the book shot like a gauzy Red Shoe Diaries episode with noir pretensions—would be enough for most thrillers. But The Number 23 abandons it in favor of an even more absurd gimmick in which Carrey becomes convinced that the number 23 and its infinite variations are somehow out to get him, which quickly devolves the film into a laughable realm of number-based psychological horror.
Watching Carrey babble gibberish about the sinister nature of 23 in scene after hyperventilating scene isn't any more fun or enlightening than listening to street-corner lunatics discourse on similar topics. At least street crazies don't expect people to pay bloated movie-ticket prices for the privilege. And The Number 23 isn't worth a pocket full of loose change.