Movie Review: When Dark Laughs make Despair Manageable — “On the Count of Three”

You’d be hard-pressed to think of a darker or more delicate subject for a “dark comedy” than a double-suicide. “On the Count of Three,” the debut feature of comic turned comic actor/director Jerrod Carmichael manages to pull that off. It’s a hilarious comedy built around two adorable doofuses that somehow feels pro suicide and pro “sticking around” at the same time.

Carmichael’s debut feature is an almost jaunty “last day” romp through two guys who seem ready to end it all and willing — eventually — to do it together. It ridicules a “system” that’s “obsessed with keeping everybody alive” and America’s easy access to the suicide, murder/suicide and double-suicide instrument of choice — firearms.

“How are these LEGAL?” dopey/mopey Kevin (Christopher Abbott) bellows, after one impulsive misuse of a firearm — one among many, I should add. “Read the CONSTITUTION. It’s my RIGHT, for some reason, to ‘bear’ this ‘arm.'”

The performances have a making-it-up-as-we-go-along familiarity. The messaging of Arit Katcher and Ryan Welch’s script has the simple profundity of the obvious. Of course America has a “gun problem.” Of course America has a “mental health problem.” And of course one problem makes the other that much worse.

Abbott (of “Black Bear” with Aubrey Plaza) plays the easier role. We meet Kevin in a mental hospital, because he’s already made up his mind, already attempted suicide once. He’s so anxious to get on with it that he lies to his counselor/”assessor” (Sydney Van Delft) about how eager he is to “start living life again” just to get out and end it all.

Val (Carmichael) is just now getting there. Something about shoveling mulch at a groundcover supply business in wintry Ontario and the prospect of a “promotion” has him yanking off his belt in the bathroom stall and taking his first stab at “not waking up in the morning,” which he tells Kevin is “the most beautiful thought I’ve had in a long time.”

He visits his friend just to break him out. And after he does, Val shows Kevin and us his solution — two pistols. But Kevin, shockingly, needs a “last day,” a chance to “leave this world a better place” because “There’s no point in living a last day if we’re gonna live it like the rest.”

Kevin has an idea — ideas — about how each can make this day count. There’s a score from Kevin’s past he’d like to settle. And Val could take the day to reconcile with his dad (JB Smoove) and his ex (Tiffany Haddish) before saying farewell to all this.

“On the Count of Three” — that’s how they’ll do it when the time comes, each shooting the other in the head. But first they need to make and act on “last day” plans and have those plans go awry — sometimes grimly, sometimes hilariously.

For a comic, Carmichael’s damned good at playing the wacky Abbott’s straight man, still slipping in digs at his “white trash EMO POS” and “angry white boys shooting up high schools” in the middle of mocking Kevin’s on-the-nose choice of music (Papa Roach) for this odyssey.

Haddish, Smoove, Lavell Crawford and Henry Winkler make vivid, amusing and/or irritated impressions in small supporting roles.

Suicide isn’t dwelt upon even though it’s always present. The writers ensure that “On the Count of Three” never descends into a glib treatment of a potentially triggering subject. Kevin is one kind of potential victim, Val is another. They can joke around all they want, but hearing each out on his reasons allows the viewer to judge if, philosophically speaking, either or both make a good argument, pro or con.

Neither the subject nor the movie is for everyone. But “On the Count of Three” is a fascinating variation on a dark comedy theme, and its light touch with hidden depth is one of the most worthwhile farces about “the only serious question,” as Albert Camus famously put it — “whether or not to kill oneself.”

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

Cast: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, JB Smoove, and Henry Winkler.

Credits: Directed by Jerrod Carmichael, scripted by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch. A United Artists release.

Running time: 1:23

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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