NOW IN THEATERS! Partially based on a true story, Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear promises a wild, irreverent time at the movies. How could it not, with such a juicy premise: a bear stumbles on a bunch of cocaine in the Georgia woods, snorts and eats a shitload of it before embarking on a rampage. The trick is, when you purposefully try to make something this unabashedly dumb, you have to be smart about it. Cocaine Bear, with its deluge of barely-sketched characters, utter lack of momentum, thrills or comedy, and asinine plot, ends up as stoopid and inconsequential as an extended, coked-up rant.
There were two ways to approach this story sensibly. One would be to go full exploitation: basic plot, cheapo vibe, inventive kills, and gruesome hilarity. Another would entail a more sophisticated approach: Predator with a coked-up bear. Banks ends up with a glossy Hollywood flick disguised as a straight-to-VOD grindhouse title. It feels dishonest, forced, and overstuffed.
Where do I start? There’s Thornton (Matthew Rhys), a coked-up drug dealer who leaps off a plane to his death, spilling blow all over the forest. Sari’s (Keri Russell) daughter, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), skips class and runs off into the woods with her annoying friend Henry (Christian Convery). Both children get coked up, and by the time Sari finds Henry, he’s up in a tree. Unfortunately, Dee Dee’s gone because the bear spared the child and, um, brought her back to her cubs to raise, Mowgli-style. Then there are the thugs, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), trying to find the cocaine for their boss, Syd (Ray Liotta), who also happens to be Eddie’s dad.
Wait, that’s not all – because a film entitled Cocaine Bear absolutely requires an ensemble cast to rival Babylon. Going after Daveed and Eddie is Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a local cop with an affinity for dogs. Margo Martindale plays Liz, a ranger who, along with partner Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), gets entangled in all of this craziness. Screenwriter Jimmy Warden doesn’t stop there, adding a trio of hoodlums, ER workers, Bob’s fellow officer Reba (Ayoola Smart), and a north-European couple of nature lovers to the bubbling stew. Maddeningly, out of all of these stalwart performers, not a single one gives a standout performance. The actors chew more scenery than the titular bear does people.
“…a bear stumbles on a bunch of cocaine in the Georgia woods…”
Desperately in search of a coherent plot, Cocaine Bear strings a dozen of them together with the hope that something sticks, a gag will land, a brutal death will be effective, a moment will resonate. None of that happens. Within the first 10 minutes, you start OD-ing on the repetitive visual gags and horrid one-liners. A realization rapidly sinks in: that’s all there is to it. There are still over 80 minutes to go.
In a film like this, questions are pointless, but I will pose some anyway. Why would the bear be so hungry on cocaine? Confused, aggravated, even deadly, sure, but hungry? The animal eats and eats and eats. At multiple points, characters have a clear shot of the bear, which they purposefully don’t take (Bob even tells the hoodlums not to shoot the coked-up bear, to, um, see what happens?). An admittedly mildly amusing moment – the bear falling asleep on top of one of the characters – soon gets ruined when someone claims that he can tell that the bear is female because its vagina is in his ear (impossible, considering the position of the bear).
Desperate jokes like that abound. Elizabeth Banks is a charming actor but gets utterly lost directing this mess. Her ineptitude when it comes to handling this kind of material is glaring. Apparently, she grew up watching horror movies like Evil Dead and was excited to try her hand at horror. Based on Cocaine Bear, she should stick to helming Pitch Perfect sequels.
"…the actors chew more scenery than the titular bear does people."