de facto film reviews 3 stars

The despairing, bittersweet, and adequately directed film by stand-up comedian and actor Jerrod Carmichael serves him well in his directorial feature film debut in On the Count of Three, an uneven but deeply layered two-handler that echoes some of the road movies and buddy movies of 1970s American cinema. Also starring Carmichael in the lead as an anguished blue-collar worker who embarks on a one-day rendezvous with his close friend (Christopher Abbot) in a vulnerable, but slight buddy movie and dark comedy that doesn’t quite reach all of the emotional depths that it aims for. While the film doesn’t quite leave the dramatic impact, there are some undeniably warm moments that are fine-tuned with superb chemistry between Carmichael and Abbott. The film also holds so much more potential for its well-meaning exploration of depression and trauma, as it becomes a mostly sincere portrait of friendship and finding closure from past traumatic events.

Finally, the film is being released after its world premiere just a little over a year ago at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. On the Count of Three gives the audience, by contrast, some very emotionally fragile characters that are overtaken by their own depression. Yet it could also be viewed as a downer where both close friends decide to commit suicide as they will shoot each other in three on the count of three—hence the title. As played with restraint and more delicate affection by Carmichael, Val, ignoring calls from his pregnant girlfriend, and unhappy with his job at a mulching company, actually ends up getting a promotion at his work for a management position.

Upon hearing the news, Val walks out of his job and walks into a bathroom stall to hang himself with his belt, which ends up becoming a failed attempt. Frustrated with his job and life, he ends up visiting his longtime friend, Kevin (Abott), who was recently admitted to a hospital after a suicide attempt. Both Kevin and Val end up escaping the hospital as both men decide to have one last day of spontaneity before they both agree to commit suicide together that day. The film opens up with a flash-forward scene in the narrative where both men are holding handguns to their faces as if they are in a Tarantino or John Woo standoff.

Jerrod Carmichael Talks Buddy Comedy 'On the Count of Three'

Before long, the film navigates itself quite quickly to where it opened up, as both men agree to put the safety on their pistols and just spend one more day to clear their minds before they commit suicide. They find themselves on the road together as they travel across the state, exchanging jokes and listening to Papa Roach’s Last Resort, which leads to Val delivering a hilarious joke that “You can’t listen to music that exactly describes the emotional thing you are going through.” They both travel on the road, eat at restaurants, go to target practice, ride dirt bikes together, reveal their problems, and decide what they want to do on their last day together. They both decide to settle old scores with individuals that harmed them as they plot what they want to do with no consequences.

Upon hearing the news, Val walks out of his job and walks into a bathroom stall to hang himself with his belt, which ends up becoming a failed attempt. Frustrated with his job and life, he ends up visiting his longtime friend, Kevin (Abott), who was recently admitted to a hospital after a suicide attempt. Both Kevin and Val end up escaping the hospital as both men decide to have one last day of spontaneity before they both agree to commit suicide together that day. The film opens up with a flash-forward scene in the narrative where both men are holding handguns to their faces as if they are in a Tarantino or John Woo standoff.

VIDEO: Jerrod Carmichael Makes a Suicide Pact in Red Band Trailer for  Directorial Debut 'On the Count of Three' | Howard Stern

Before long, the film navigates itself quite quickly to where it opened up, as both men agree to put the safety on their pistols and just spend one more day to clear their minds before they commit suicide. They find themselves on the road together as they travel across the state, exchanging jokes and listening to Papa Roach’s Last Resort, which leads to Val delivering a hilarious joke that “You can’t listen to music that exactly describes the emotional thing you are going through.” They both travel on the road, eat at restaurants, go to target practice, ride dirt bikes together, reveal their problems, and decide what they want to do on their last day together. They both decide to settle old scores with individuals that harmed them as they plot what they want to do with no consequences.

Both men end up eventually confronting the people that caused their trauma, which includes Val and Kevin visiting Val’s father, Lyndell (J.B. Smooth), a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who used to steal money from Val, which leads to Val confronting him. This leads to a very violent confrontation at Lyndell’s auto repair shop, causing both men to flee from the mayhem. As the film progresses, we are shown some abrupt and clunky flashbacks of Henry Winkler as Kevin’s childhood psychiatrist, who is responsible for Kevin’s emotional turmoil.

On the Count of Three Trailer: Jerrod Carmichael & Christopher Abbott Plan  Their Final Day of Life

One of the joys of On the Count of The Three is how it explores Val and Kevin navigating their traumas together, as we see their friendship and time together being therapeutic as the film progresses. Each scenario finds them rationalizing the mayhem they are about to embark on, drawn not only by their shared depression but also by some genuine friendship. There is a satisfying emotional core to both men that is harmonized by some strong turns by both characters that deliver different layers to their performances. Carmichael is more emotionally restrained, as Abbot is more animated and gonzo in his performance that bounces between anxiety, high energy, and finally some emotional subtlety.

For all the films’ pleasures, it’s relieving to see a film less than 90 mins these days in a time where audiences and filmmakers mostly believe the longer the running time, the better, which always isn’t the case. In this case, the film feels like it’s missing a reel or two, with an ending that feels like it was an early draft. Despite the final 10-minute stretch that doesn’t quite end on a deeply satisfying level, it could have ended in many possible ways, one that could easily be compared to Thelma and Louise. The film asks what it would be like if you lived every day as if it were your last, while also strangling the characters who are stuck in a limbo of unhappiness and depression. Intentionally or not, Carmichael decides to communicate the themes of the film rather than deliver some more visual motifs and metaphors to the story that could have made the film more artful in its commentary on depression and seeking therapy-instead we are given more expository communication throughout the film, like the Last Resort song and a scene or another scene involving Val’s girlfriend Natasha (Tiffany Haddish), who lectures to Val that he should seek therapy.

Despite these quibbles, the film’s first hour or so is quite a darkly amusing ride as it bounces between tonal shifts of dark comedy and buddy movie. It also helps that both Carmichael and Abbott make a dynamic duo with their banter, wit, and burdens. Carmichael and writers Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch leave enough ambiguity in the final reel for the audience to speculate on the fate of its protagonist. Overall, On the Count of Three has some missteps, but it is a solid directorial debut that overcomes its flaws.