I love how this is the first movie to feature the Filet-O-Fish song.
Jerrod Carmichael has been audacious out of the gate, ever since his splash in 2014 with his superb bit part in “Neighbors” playing the Bi-curious stoner and his incredible Spike Lee-directed debut stand up special. Then he probably made the last watchable multi-cam sitcom that tackled the Bill Cosby scandal and homophobia. Now with his feature-length directorial debut “On the Count of Three,” I really hope it goes down as a Sundance classic. This was the most twisted, tar-black comedy I’ve seen since maybe “Observe and Report.“
Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (a career-best Christopher Abbott) are two best friends who make a pact to kill each other by the end of the day. Val breaks Kevin out of a mental hospital (three days after Kevin tried killing himself), and Kevin decides to seek vengeance. His therapist (a chilling Henry Winkler) may or may not have helped Kevin have a more fucked up state of mind. And Val is having a quarter-life crisis after his girlfriend drops a bombshell on him.
Jerrod Carmichael, an actor who’s made a name for himself in brief, but impactful parts, now finds himself his first feature-length leading role and already has proven that he is The Millennial Emo-Dave Chappelle for a new generation. His cadence, his delivery, even his wardrobe (reminiscent of Chappelle’s Half Baked work uniform), he’s perfect. I would love to see Carmichael in darker roles like Val in the future. Abbott, who’s been on my radar since “A Most Violent Year,” and “James White,” is an actor who just always seemed ahead of his time. He’s proven repeatedly that he can be an emotional powerhouse, but his comic timing on display here is sublime. It’s like Shia LaBeouf had James Franco’s comic timing. Abbott is playing an extremely complex character, but he’s so natural, he makes it look easy. It’s such a heartbreaking and simultaneously colorful performance, and it’s brilliant work, and I want his jacket. He and Carmichael have extraordinary chemistry, really breathing life into this friendship. We get some great parts from Tiffany Haddish, Lavell Crawford, and Jared Abrahamson, but Carmichael and Abbott really own this.
The film is also hilarious, despite the massively dark undertones. This premise will divide people, that’s for sure. Some might say it’s glorifying mental illness and guns. Still, I think the script (brilliantly written by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch) toes the line expertly with its tonal switches, which feel like The Safdie bros took over from the Coen Bros while meeting a Harmony Korine-esque tone, in which I think the protagonists’ moral ambiguity truthfully showcases the mental struggle people go through. It’s also masterfully shot, and the Arcade Fire score is beautifully jazzy and thrilling. The soundtrack also features effectual needle drops from Papa Roach, Metallica, and Roddy Rich.
This isn’t a perfect debut, sadly. It might not balance tone better than most debuts, but certain quiet moments (without spoiling) sort of derail from the fast pace and insane comedic flourishes. JB Smoove’s scene also left me scratching my head, despite the good acting with a story element thrown in out of nowhere. This was also barely 80 minutes, but the story’s bizarre structure juxtaposed with these mentally unstable characters made perfect sense to me.
Overall, On The Count of Three is undeniably daring and emotionally cathartic. It’s brutally funny and masterfully directed by Jerrod Carmichael. Sign me up for another Carmichael Joint, please, and thank you. [A-]