‘Count of Three’ is the darkest black comedy

By Jocelyne Noveck | Associated press

“On the Count of Three” is marketed as a “darkly comic” film. Well, there’s dark comedy and there’s darker comedy, and then there’s comedy like this – so dark that you wonder if the two words can realistically coexist in a sentence.

So it’s not clear what genre to place this supremely confident if bumpy and unsettling debut film from talented comedian Jerrod Carmichael, a buddy movie that begins with said buddy pointing loaded guns at each other with the intent to shoot at the same time (hence the disturbing title.)

Obviously, things won’t go perfectly to plan, because then there would be no movie left. But, just a warning: the feeling you might get right then and there of “I’m really not sure I can watch this” will likely stick with you for the full 86 minutes, even if you recognize the considerable acting chemistry. generated by Carmichael, heading, and Christopher Abbott.

So, back to this scene. It comes hours after the dark winter day covered in the film. Without saying too much, Val (Carmichael) and Kevin (Abbott) are longtime friends, but very different trajectories have brought them to this dreary parking lot. Val works at a landscaping supply store and her best prospects seem to be a promotion to floor manager. He starts this working day by taking all his breaks to smoke, which is not a good sign.

Val decides to go visit Kevin, and suddenly they inadvertently have the opportunity to break Kevin out of the institution he’s in. Thus begins a day in which they both seek to right the wrongs committed against them, and perhaps some they have pledged.

Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch’s screenplay makes a game-changing effort throughout to switch between humor and pathos, levity and desperation, with occasional hits and a few misses as well. (That’s a tall order, even without the broader references to issues like police racism and gun control.) What’s consistent is a disturbing unpredictability — we really don’t know how. this day will resolve itself – and the authenticity of the lead actors, who care for us even as we struggle to come to terms with some of the plot elements. Without these skilfully calibrated performances, the film would flounder.

Every man faces unresolved conflicts, some more compelling than others. Val, in a relatively restrained performance by Carmichael — who, through his comedy, certainly has experience in humor in dark places — has some serious issues with her estranged father (JB Smoove of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” ) He also has to deal with his inability to be a responsible partner to a confident girlfriend, Natasha (underused “Carmichael Show” co-star Tiffany Haddish).

As for Kevin, played more broadly by Abbott, he has a deep anger at a man, now serving his country in the military, who bullied him in his youth. Worse, there’s the creepy doctor who molested him in his youth. (Henry Winkler plays the unfortunate medical professional).

Unsurprisingly, Carmichael proves to be a director who is nothing if not confident and comfortable with the uncomfortable. It keeps the action moving – in moments the film even looks like an action shot. A climactic scene has an apocalyptic feel and is visually reminiscent of one of American cinema’s most famous Friends films, although the Friends were named Thelma and Louise.

But it’s the acting that keeps the film afloat. Carmichael is a multifaceted talent, and one wonders what he’ll do next – especially if next time around his name is also on the script.

“On the Count of Three”

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

Evaluation: R (for violence, suicide, pervasive language and some sexual references)

Operating time: 86 minutes