Another Take: Cocaine Bear
An unapologetically bonkers and bloody good time. You get exactly what you pay for with "Cocaine Bear"
It almost feels pointless to review a movie like “Cocaine Bear.” It’s the kind of movie that feels completely critic-proof. Who cares about how well-made a movie about a cocaine-snorting killer black bear is?
Elizabeth Banks is a magnificent actress, she has both impeccable comedic chops in films like “Wet Hot American Summer” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and has shown to be a damn good dramatic actress in movies such as “Love & Mercy.” Yet, most of her offerings in the director’s chair haven’t fared too great. Having directed a segment in the much-maligned “Movie 43,” directing the highly successful but inferior sequel to “Pitch Perfect,” and most recently spearheading a reboot of “Charlie’s Angels” that wowed neither critics nor moviegoers. “Cocaine Bear” seems like the ultimate litmus test, she doesn’t appear in front of the camera at any moment of the film nor did she write the screenplay. Yet anyone who knows Banks’ sense of humor on social media immediately knows, this seems like something that should be right in her wheelhouse.
Based very, very, loosely on the true story of Pablo Eskobear, a 175-pound American Black Bear who ate and overdosed on 34 kilos of cocaine. Fortunately, the titular bear in “Cocaine Bear” does not meet that untimely fate. Instead, she becomes an unstoppable killing machine that is ripping limbs, munching on heads, and terrorizing hikers, who is fueled by the power of cocaine. It’s a gimmick for sure, but the film also mixes in a “Fargo” esque plot with its impressive ensemble including two drug dealers (O’Shea Jackson Jr and Alden Ehrenreich) who are desperately trying to return what’s left of the cocaine to a drug kingpin (Ray Liotta), a single mother (Keri Russell) who is in search of her missing daughter (Brooklynn Prince) who has skipped school and ventured into the woods with her precocious best friend (Christian Convery), and a police detective (Isiah Whitlock Jr) who is hot on the trail of the drug ring that ties everything together.
Anybody purchasing a ticket to go see “Cocaine Bear,” is likely doing so expecting two things, a bear doing endless amounts of cocaine and an unholy amount of blood and gore, and that’s exactly what they’ll get. Sure there are too many sub-plots that run rampant through the course of the film, but it’s all part of the fun. Half of the film feels like the R-Rated studio comedies that Hollywood rarely churns out anymore and the other half feels like a “Snakes on a Plane” type flick that so desperately wants to become the next great cult film.
Banks is clearly aware of just how dorky the film is and she runs with it, there’s nothing particularly tense or scary in the film, but there are several sequences throughout that are destined to have the moviegoers roaring with laughter and cheers, including one of the most f-d ambulance chases ever put to screen. While the film does start to lose some of its steam as it nears its end, it doesn’t ever wear out its welcome.
The entire cast is perfect in their respective roles. The late great Ray Liotta is fully committed to playing a campy B-movie villain and Keri Russell and O’Shea Jackson Jr make for solid leads. The film’s biggest standouts, without question, are Isiah Whitlock Jr, Christian Convery, and Alden Ehrenreich. Most of the film’s biggest laughs come from these three, including a bit involving Whitlock and his new dog, and Ehrenreich receiving a rather unfortunate tattoo. Convery plays his part as if he’s the live-action version of Butters Stotch from “South Park,” meaning fans of the iconic animated series will feel right at home with “Cocaine Bear’s sense of humor.
While the film’s ensemble is great, it sometimes, rather unfortunately, comes at the expense of the film’s main attraction. While obviously the movie couldn’t have just relied on the bear, a few more cuts may have made the film feel a bit tighter and more focused. The sub-plots do find their way to fit together, but very, very loosely, and not always in the most satisfying of ways. There are also some comedic bits that feel stretched far too thin (as can be common in R-rated comedies), some of it just isn’t very funny and some of it is just weird, like Margo Martindale’s strange flirting with both a hooligan teen and Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s Smokey the Bear obsessed Peter. Though with how much fun all of the cast is clearly having, you can’t really fault them too much.
Your enjoyment of “Cocaine Bear” definitely relies on what you thought about the film’s trailer. While plenty of movies have employed some pretty misleading marketing, “Cocaine Bear” is the exact opposite. If you weren’t amused by the sight of a CGI bear playing with drugs, maybe you should sit this one out, as for those on the other end, have some drinks (or other substances), and have a ball.