Quite a jazzy little number

Special to The Times

An elusive dog leads an animal control officer to a graveyard. A mysterious novel contains details of the officer's private life. A woman leaps to her death from a hotel window. And each factor seem to produce the number 23.

"The Number 23" is neither a prequel to the TV series "24" nor a reference to the number of flavors said to be in Dr Pepper but a psychological thriller starring Jim Carrey and Virginia Madsen. The film concerns obsession and the "23 Enigma," the notion that the figure is uniquely significant.

For instance, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes; the Mayans' "Long Count" calendar predicted the end of the world on Dec. 23, 2012; and two divided by three is .666, the supposed number of the Beast.

Director Joel Schumacher ("Tigerland," "The Phantom of the Opera") says he was unaware of the 23 Enigma when he came across Fernley Phillips' script about six years ago (six is two times three).

"I'm from the 'Hamlet' school: 'There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio .... ' I don't know, I'm just trying to keep my side of the street clean and move on," says the numerology agnostic. "But I Googled the number 23, and there were thousands of entries. There are people who photograph the number; they're out there."

Schumacher says he has dropped in lots of hidden nuggets for the believers -- from the sums of street addresses to a character being 8 when important events occur (eight is two to the third power).

"I know there are a lot of avid fans who look at DVDs over and over again. I peppered it with them in case there are 23-ophiles. There's even 23 in Chinese in one scene."

Carrey might seem an odd choice for such a dark movie, which opens in February, but Schumacher, directing him for the second time since "Batman Forever," figures he was the prime candidate.

"I thought the protagonist was very much Everyman, and Jim has the look and ability to be an Everyman and then a very unique man," says the director. "He's very complex and has many facets to him, and the part calls for that."

One of the movie's conceits is that it tells stories within stories, something Schumacher hadn't previously attempted.

"I'm trying to pick things I've never done before, so hopefully I'll get better as a director," he says. "If I'm not scared of the project, I usually don't do it. I like to swim out as far as I can and see if I can make it back."

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