Tuesday, August 16, 2022

On the Count of Three, on Hulu

Ironically, a crime spree can give a sense of urgency and momentum to life. Initially, Val and Kevin figured they had nothing to lose, except their lives, which they were tired of, so why not end it all by going a little outlaw? Perhaps a fresh perspective will change their minds, or perhaps not in Jerrod Carmichael’s On the Count of Three, premiering tomorrow on Hulu.

Kevin has been miserable all his life, for many reasons, starting with Dr. Brenner, who molested him when he was a young boy. Val isn’t much happier, but he doesn’t have as many excuses. Nevertheless, he wants to end it all too, so he springs his friend from the psychiatric hospital, where he was committed after his recent suicide attempt. Val wants them to do the job right, by simultaneously shooting each other in the head. Kevin is not against it, but he wants to celebrate their last day together first, possibly by settling some scores. Dr. Brenner is at the top of his list, but Val might also want to visit the father who did him wrong.

At this point, the film and all its promotional materials are covered with trigger warnings and referrals for counseling help. That is all well intentioned and maybe a little of it is helpful, but society managed to survive Hal Ashby’s
Harold and Maude and Burt Reynolds’ The End. We should be able to weather this film as well. Frankly, a little dark humor can be cathartic and healing.

There is some here (especially when it skewers Kevin’s kneejerk woke, anti-gun rights politics), but screenwriters Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch really should have cranked up the mordant attitude much higher. Too often, they focus on the sad and tragic (which are usually less therapeutic). However, Lavell Crawford and Tiffany Haddish both deliver some sharply cutting lines. The support work in
Count is first-rate, including Henry Winkler, who will shock and even scar those who grew up with him on Happy Days, with his coldly manipulative performance as Dr. Brenner.

Carmichael and Christopher Abbott have a good deal of believably “lived-in” sad-buddy rapport as the downbeat duo. The former gets more laughs than the latter, who just comes across exponentially more beaten down with each passing minute. Of course, that makes Kev the perfect part for the always-morose looking Abbott. There is definitely a poignancy to their friendship, like they are the loser-men version of
Thelma & Louise. However, Carmichael’s suicidal depression is never fully established or explained. Maybe that is sort of the point, but from a dramatic standpoint, it feels underdeveloped.

In terms of direction, Carmichael dexterously escalates the trauma and the sense of impending tragedy. It is not exactly a crime film, but it has enough plotty conflict to prevent it from being pigeon-holed as a “serious issue” film. It is watchable and sometimes worthy, in dark, pessimistic kind of way. Recommended for the emotionally healthy who enjoy some pitch-black humor,
On the Count of Three starts streaming tomorrow (8/17) on Hulu.