Alden Ehrenreich, Brooklynn Prince, Christian Convery, Cocaine Bear, Elizabeth Banks, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jesse Tyler Ferguson, keri russell, Margo Martindale, O'Shea Jackson Jr., ray liotta
A few months ago there was a rumbling on the internet, a whisper of something coming, a promise of a film whose title was the only selling point you needed: Cocaine Bear. A modern day animal exploitation movie the likes of which we haven’t seen since Snakes on a Plane, a meme of a movie that asks the question what if a bear did cocaine? And now it’s finally here, does it live up to the name?
When a drug smuggler dumps his shipment into a national park, a host of locals and out-of-towner’s struggle to survive the brown bear that has discovered the drugs and formed a dangerous habit. The four main story threads consist of off-duty nurse, Sari (Keri Russell), searching for her young daughter; Eddie and Daveed (Alden Ehrenreich & O’Shae Jackson Jr) two criminals sent to retrieve the missing drugs by their boss Syd (Ray Liotta); police detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) following after the criminals; and park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) who is just trying to survive.
The movie is also set in the 80’s giving us a few anti-drug commercials of the time and some real life footage of the actual news reporting around the event at the top of the film. That’s right as the poster, trailer and movie will insist this is based on a true story, when drug smugglers dumped a cocaine shipment in the middle of the woods and indeed a bear did find it and did indeed consume cocaine but in real life the bear died whereas the film dramatises what if cocaine had the same effect on bears as spinach has to Popeye.
From the plot summary above you might guess my first issue with this film: the script. This movie runs at 95 minutes but it is overstuffed with characters. I didn’t even mention the surviving hippy running around from the opening, the three low-ambition local thugs, the two ambulance drivers (in one of the best sequences of the film), the visiting forest fire specialist, our stranger things dose of two children amongst it all and the secondary cop character who pops back up towards the end for no real impact.
Now there are some fun performances here particularly one of the young kids, Henry (Christain Convery) who gives a lot of best lines, and one of the local thugs, Kid (Aaron Holliday) who is the largest source of character comedy in the film, and Keri Russell, in her pink jumpsuit, deserves so much more love and time but with so many people running all around we just don’t have the time to properly invest and develop themes, story or plot.
Now most people will give it the Sharknado defense, “You want plot? You want a story? Who needs themes when you’ve got the cocaine bear?” but the film aspires to be more, it’s not relying on cliches to the extent that it probably should. So what we’re left is a massive cast of characters but no time to properly explore the stories that they so desperately want to tell here.
Elizabeth Banks helms the film as director, her last film being the (somewhat unfairly) maligned Charlie’s Angels reboot/sequel. It’s a shame because I’ve loved Banks as an actor for years, and I’ve been rooting for her as a director just to watch her films generally miss the mark ever so slightly and that continues to be the case here. The tone here is kind of head scratching because it’s not funny, the attempts at comedy are far and few between, I had maybe two laughs in the entire time. The aforementioned ambulance scene has a glimmer leaning more into horror but then we drop that as well. It’s just a bit of a wet mess. There’s certainly some enjoyment to be had here, there are some really fun sequences, the soundtrack bolstering the whole affair and the action is handled particularly well, hitting all the schlocky notes that the movie should have more of, but the comedy of the film mostly doesn’t hit the mark, a few too many performances just seem to be sleepwalking through the runtime and could probably use a hit of some kind of stimulant.
The titular bear though is a joy, the special effects render it impressively for the modest budget and it is stylised and cartoony just enough that it never feels terribly odd. Honestly the bear is so fun, whenever it’s on screen I want a prequel, a sequel, a whole Fast and Furious length series, son of Cocaine Bear, Abbott and Costello meet Cocaine Bear, Cocaine Bear Goes to Camp/College/Space. It’s where the rest of the cast comes in that drags the movie down.
The performances and the writing work in tandem to just sink the film below what is fun and enjoyable and turns the film into an overly ambitious 95 minute feature in need of a punch up.
- Oscar Jack