On the Count of Three (Movie Review)

The directorial debut of Jerrod Carmichael (The Carmichael Show series, Home Videos 2019), On the Count of Three works from a screenplay by Ari Katcher (Ramy series, Drew Michael: Red, Blue, Green 2021) and Ryan Welch (Saturday Night Live series). While it did debut back at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021, the film will have a limited theatre run on May 13, 2022, followed by a digital release on the same day, via Annapurna Pictures and Orion Pictures, which are parts of United Artists Releasing, which is part of MGM. Corporations eh? It even runs at a rather breezy 84 minutes, so viewers will not have to free up a whole afternoon for it.

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The film is about two friends, Val (Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbot: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot 2016, The Forgiven 2021). The former is a mulch plant worker sick of his job, his girlfriend Natasha (Tiffany Haddish: Keanu 2016, Girls Trip 2017), and his life, and the latter has anger and other emotional issues stemming from a hard past and ineffective treatment from Dr. Brenner (Henry Winkler: Happy Days series, Arrested Development series).

When Val frees Kevin from the mental ward, the two decide to make a mutual suicide pact- they will spend their last day doing whatever they want- robbery, revenge, anything- and then finish each other off at gunpoint. Except they may not be as committed to the whole suicide part as they think they are.

It does not waste any time getting into the action either. There is about 10 minutes of setup, and then everything is set in motion. The plot handles both characters in interesting ways too. The two want their problems to go away, yet their scheme is to blaze a trail of self-destruction is not one that is usually recommended by therapists. Their frustrations with work and failed treatments have reached their peak and they are going to let it all out.

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Except they are not very good at it. They have goals, like dealing with Val’s abusive dad (J.B Smoove: Date Night 2010, Spider-Man: No Way Home 2021) or Winkler’s Brenner but no plans. Things either go awry, or they get cold feet. So, it is a Dark Comedy of errors- a buddy road flick version of 1993’s Falling Down with a less strict haircut. The buddy dynamic is key as it carries the whole film. Luckily, Abbot and Carmichael have some rather good chemistry with each other. The latter’s nervous energy contrasting neatly with Carmichael’s lowkey attitude

On one hand, Carmichael can seem a little too low energy sometimes, but it fits his character. His depression is less sadness, and more tiredness. Sick of the same old routines, same old people, same old job with no way out. Whereas Abbot’s Kevin is either a bundle of nerves, or a powder keg that just needs the right trigger to set it off.

Which is where the rest of the cast come in, where they agitate or redirect the two leads for one scene or another. Haddish’s Natasha is a fiery voice of reason who presses some sense into Val, albeit a bit too late. While Smoove and Winkler’s characters make good cases for Val and Kevin’s fury, with Winkler adding a little comic energy into his interactions (and a terrible wig). One can sympathize with Val and Kevin’s feelings, while Natasha reminds the audience that, though she does not know it, their plan is all messed up and is not going to work (“Stop standing in your own way!”).

Still, for a film that is less than 90 minutes, the pace is rather slow. The quips are funny, though they are not exactly guffaw-inducing. More of a sensible chuckle or a knowing nod, as the two worry about being on par with white kid mass shooters or clashing over their music tastes (“I’m not gonna listen to Papa fuckin’ Roach on the day I’m gonna kill myself!”). It is more introspective, dramatic, and moody than its premise would suggest. Still, the emotions do not get particularly high (beyond Kevin) until just past the halfway mark. There could have been some stronger sparks in that first half to keep people glued to the screen.

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That does not make On the Count of Three a bad film. In fact, it works out rather well. The writing is solid, with relatable characters, good drama, and some funny lines. Not to mention some solid performances, particularly from Abbot and Haddish. Maybe it could have had more to see and do in the first half, but as far as directorial debuts go, this is a good one from Carmichael. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives On the Count of Three 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Annapurna Pictures/Orion Pictures

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