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by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & The Number 23 & r &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & "T & lt;/span & here are 23 axioms in Euclid's Geometry," says psychiatrist Dr. Issac French (Danny Huston). "The human body consists of 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent." Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) already knows, from reading a book that was supposedly written 13 years ago, that Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. 9 + 11+ 2 + 0 + 0 + 1 = 23. The Oklahoma City bombing? April 19, 1995. 4 + 19 = 23. Joel Schumacher, via his new schlock fest, The Number 23, takes great care to point out all these strange numerological happenstances and warns that, if you look too closely, you might find such numbers in your own life. What he's never able to explain, though, is why we should care.

The first part, though -- finding the number 23 in my own life -- that tuh-oh-tally happened.

Even as I sat in the theater, watching, I felt gripped by it. Consider this: the number of times I wanted to walk out on the film was roughly equal to its running time, 96 minutes. Further, 3 numbered the times when the film's heavy-handedness became such an unbearable weight I would've foregone walking out entirely if I could have just killed myself where I sat. Divide 96 by 3, you get 32. And 32 backwards is ... 23.

See what I'm saying? Yes, I'm saying it's stupid to be afraid of numbers. Moreover, it's impossible -- utterly impossible -- to be scared of them. That's especially true when the team attempting the scare is this incompetent.

The book Sparrow becomes obsessed with is terribly written, destroying its credibility. The film's overarching story, too, is poorly written. The 23s in Sparrow's life should be sprinkled throughout early so we can discover them along with him, keeping us looking as he looks. The narrative framework does the exact opposite. Knowing nothing of Walter prior to his picking up the book, we're dragged along, gradually given access to his past rather than being allowed to discover it. He reads a passage and says, in effect, "Hey, that's like my life." Then he reads another: "Hey, that too!" He then reads enough and, inexplicably, starts worrying he'll begin killing people.

Why? Who the hell knows? "The number had come after me," he laments at one point. To which I thought, "No, it didn't. It was there all along. You just started noticing."

The need to personify the number is understandable. Unless there's the specter of menace and ill will, the coincidences wouldn't turn into grim portents. Personification is the easiest, most facile way to show menace. The filmmakers, though, couldn't even figure out how to show us a number personified, so they had to tell us. Thus we have poor, dumb Sparrow squawking and cawing, acting more like Chicken Little than any wild bird.

The number of peanut chunks in the Pad Thai I'm eating right now is 46. There are two visible bean sprouts ... you can see where I'm headed with this. But if Walter Sparrow caught wind of such a food-borne omen, he would be convinced that my food wants me dead. He wouldn't be able to convince me, though, because, frankly, I think he's a moron.

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