Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jerrold Carmichael
Stars: Jerrold Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, JB Smoove, Henry Winkler.
Emmy award winning television writer, producer and stand-up comic Jerrold Carmichael makes his feature film directorial debut with this blackly comic buddy film about two best friends who make a suicide pact.
Val (played by Carmichael) and Kevin (played by Christopher Abbott, from It Comes At Night, etc) have been best friends since childhood, but they find that their adult lives are messed up. Val is stuck in a dead-end job he loathes and quits. He has also broken up with his girlfriend Natasha (Tiffany Haddish). Kevin has spent time in and out of foster homes and psychiatric institutions, and therapy has been unable to help him. Both have attempted suicide. The film opens with the confronting sight of the two pointing pistols at each other while standing in an alley behind a strip club.
But at the last second Kevin decides that he wants to make the most of his last day alive, and convinces Val that they have unfinished business to attend to. Val has some unresolved issues with his abusive father Lyndell (comedian JB Smoove, from Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc), while Kevin has a score to settle with Dr Brenner (Henry Winkler, best known for playing the Fonz in the 70s sitcom Happy Days, cast against type here), the psychiatrist who molested him as a child and is probably the root cause of many of his psychological problems.
What follows is a road journey of sorts as the two characters embark on a wild and unpredictable ride involving riding dirt bikes and holding up a convenience store. It seems a bit episodic at times. As the film progresses, we come to care about these two characters as they bumble their way along, and we hope that they make it through to the end of the day. But as they set out to right some of the wrongs of the traumatic past Val learns that he has a strong reason to live.
On The Count Of Three is a low budget film with a cleverly constructed script from Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, who worked with Carmichael on the tv series Ramy, which he produced. The script won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. The film tackles some weighty issues like mental illness, abuse, toxic masculinity, friendships, bullying, trauma, suicide and depression, and why the film doesn’t shy away from the darker nature of the material, the script is leavened with a strong streak of black humour. And it is never predictable. Nonetheless many will find some of the material confronting, and maybe a little disturbing.
The two leads are attuned to the offbeat demands of the material and give it their all. They create a natural seeming rapport and the banter between them appears unforced. Abbott is loud, brash and over the top as the frenetic and foul mothed Kevin, who is so desperate he sees no other way to end his pain, but his performance perfectly suits the character. Carmichael brings a more reflective and calm quality to his performance. The pair develop a wonderful chemistry that is believable. Haddish is solid in a small role, and it’s good to see Winkler pop up in a small if unsympathetic role.
Cinematographer Marshall Adams does a good job with the visuals.
The film is a little uneven tonally, and while the premise may sound a bit on the bleak side, there are some wonderfully funny moments to be found. On The Count Of Three marks a strong and confident debut from Carmichael.
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