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'On the Count of Three' review: Friends behaving badly


Jerrod Carmichael makes his feature film directorial debut in this grim drama about two friends with a suicide pact.

Val and Kevin both want to die. They have guns to each other's heads. They'll both pull the trigger (insert title of the movie here), and together, they'll end their mutual suffering on this Earth. One, two...

Pause. Kevin knocks Val's gun away. Maybe it's not quite time. How about one more day to live it up, settle some old scores, and then take care of the business of dying?

That's the set-up for "On the Count of Three," Jerrod Carmichael's mixed bag of a directorial debut, which features a pair of committed performances but less weight than one would hope for in such a proudly grim, rough-around-the-edges tale.  

Carmichael plays Val, who goes to visit his best friend Kevin (Christopher Abbott) at the mental health facility where he's currently being held, having tried to commit suicide a few days prior. Val — fresh off a suicide attempt of his own — breaks him out, and it's the first sign that these friends live by a code of their own making, not necessarily one that is in either of their best interests. It won't be the last. 

Val and Kevin's friendship is at the forefront of "On the Count of Three," and Carmichael captures lived-in moments of exuberance: the pals' last go-round at the local dirt bike track where they once worked, the exaltation they feel shooting firearms at a gun range. They've always been there for each other, and their chemistry is real. "On the Count of Three" is more than a buddy movie, it's a love story. 

Their path through the day — which includes several felonies along the way — is another story. Both Val and Kevin are suffering from deeply ingrained mental health issues, which the film addresses, and rather neatly squares off by identifying targets for their anguish (for Val it's his father, for Kevin it's a creepy doctor who molested him as a child). But coping is out of the picture for these two, and death is the way out. It seems to have been agreed long before the audience picks up with them.   

Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch's screenplay handles the pair's suicide pact and acceptance of death in a frank, matter of fact manner which is rarely seen in American movies. When it is, it is usually used as some sort of a bait and switch, which is not the case here — well, not entirely, at least.

"On the Count of Three" is a prickly story, and Carmichael — who shoots on grainy looking 35mm film — embraces its thorniness, using it as a badge of honor. Outside of its music cues (hello, Papa Roach) it exists out of time; it could take place in the '90s or even the '70s. Even still, this is not a story that is easy to wrap your arms around; you can hug it all you want, but it won't hug you back. It's as bleak as bleak to the point of nothingness. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'On the Count of Three'

GRADE: C+

Rated R: for violence, suicide, pervasive language and some sexual references

Running time: 83 minutes

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