A buddy comedy centred around a suicide pact isn’t exactly going to be the easiest sell (or the most pleasant viewing experience), and coming out on the other side of a global pandemic where mental health issues surged certainly doesn’t help matters either, but here we are with On the Count of Three, an at-times uncomfortable dramedy that wisely doesn’t make light of its central dynamic, but hopes its bleak attempts at humour will soften some of its edges.
When the film opens we are witness to the imagery of Val (Jerrod Carmichael, also marking his debut as a director here) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott) pointing a gun at each other, seemingly in the final throws of their aforementioned suicide pact. As it cuts to black amidst the sound of a singular gun shot, we are taken to the hours prior where Val springs Kevin from a mental health facility and, in a surprising revelation to the clearly unstable and disturbed Kevin, admits his desires to take his own life.
The fragility of men’s psychological health is an issue that deserves to be explored and, occasionally, On the Count of Three‘s script, as penned by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch (both of TV’s Ramy), flirts with the suggestion that it will partake in such an inspection, but, for the most part, weightier issues are left unblemished and played with a nihilistic mentality instead.
The premise of the film allows both Val and Kevin to adopt the temperament that their actions for the day come with the sense of no consequences. Whilst this could have leaned into a lighter shade when looking at just what their life has to offer, or even a narrative around saying and doing all the things they wish so, it still can’t quite escape its bleakness. Kevin, for example, has a specific task for the day, one that involves Henry Winkler in a rather odd role, but as we see him buckle under fear of standing up to a school bully that quite openly mocks him in a chance diner encounter, the film continually lays the foundation that him selling this day of “no consequences” is all talk. Kevin is so clearly scared that his suicide is really the only solution he believes will suit his trajectory. It’s a sad realisation that the film disappointingly doesn’t evaluate with much care.
For his part, Val starts to feel a little more reflective over the day, contemplating whether or not he truly does want to end his life or if it’s a more reactive notion to the resentment he harbours towards his abusive father (JB Smoove) and the uncertainty he feels in progressing in his relationship with his girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish). In lightly detailing the differences both Kevin and Val have to their pact, On the Count of Three shows promise in navigating its delicate story, but it ultimately feels so episodic that we feel emotionally teased over anything of a cathartic nature.
Mainly let down by a script that doesn’t match the arresting performances of both Abbott and Carmichael, the latter particularly great (and showing immense promise as a filmmaker) as he verges on the edge of an emotional outburst in every frame, On the Count of Three still has merit in its study on mental health, but, perhaps for the sake of entertainment, it feels a little too restrictive and ironically scared in embracing a mentality that speaks to showcasing honesty without the fear of consequences.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
On the Count of Three is now screening in select Australian theatres.