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'On the Count of Three' is a poignant story about life and its struggles

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At this point, I’ve seen enough movies where people point guns at each other’s faces that I’m actually likely to avoid your movie if that looks like it’ll be a prominent feature. I mean, come on, that stopped being thrilling sometime in the ‘90s.

But what if the two people pointing those guns at each other had agreed to do exactly that? What if instead of this being the culmination of some hack crime script, it was two people who were there because they’d reached their limit with this life, and had agreed to help each other end it all? That is, what if they were there because of desperation… and love?

This is where we begin the film On the Count of Three, a movie that tackles mental illness, friendship, trauma, and the insidious nature of American gun culture, all within the framework of an extremely dark buddy comedy. It’s directed by, and stars, Jerrod Carmichael, who’s having a heck of a couple of months with this and the release of his astonishing stand-up special Rothaniel. Carmichael is a man who’s working a dead-end job, who’s ghosted his girlfriend, and who sees no chance for improvement in any aspect of his life. In short, he’s depressed. His best friend, played by Christopher Abbott, has been institutionalized and has just tried to kill himself with pills. Carmichael springs Abbott from the hospital and offers him a solution to their problems: they kill each other.

The movie’s screenplay won an award at the Sundance Film Festival, and it is good… but it’s also uneven. There’s a sometimes uncomfortable tension between strained comedy and the more organic, emotional parts of the film. But Carmichael’s direction saves this. He still has some things to learn when it comes to technique, but he understands the necessary tone. The movie is subdued and never tips into zaniness, which it threatens to do more than once. Between that and the vulnerability the two leads show as actors, On the Count of Three stays grounded and becomes a poignant story about life, its struggles, and what it means to be friends.

On the Count of Three is on VOD May 13th.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.