With a title like COCAINE BEAR, you already know what you are getting yourself into. I could just give you an easy elevator pitch; there’s drug use involving a big mean bear who will stop at nothing for a fix and even when pesky humans get in the way. That’s pretty much it. The title alone will earn this movie millions!
The setup for COCAINE BEAR quite funny and is actually taken from some real events that have been, ahem, very dramatized. An escaping drug smuggler drops a very large amount of wrapped cocaine bars off of a plane and gets in a fatal accident along the way. Mission failed, we’ll get ’em next time.
The cocaine bricks get scattered all over the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia and one of them is almost immediately ingested by a bear. In reality, the bear died pretty quickly after the drug fix, but since a movie needs to come out of this cinematic adaptation, it’s a bit better to get the bear stoned and wackiness ensuing instead.
Quite a few people are on the hunt for the lost loot, in particular drug dealers (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr and Aiden Ehrenreich) sent out by their boss (the late great Ray Liotta in his final film role) to retrieve the loot, along with a detective (Isiah Whitlock, a legend in his own right) who gets in their way. There’s also a park ranger (an always wonderful Margo Martindale)a mom (Keri Russell) searching for her two lost kids (Brooklyn Prince from THE FLORIDA PROJECT and Christian Convery, a total comedic find) who are skipping school and visiting the park, all of whom are having to deal with a drug-fueled bear in the woods.
The director here is none other than prolific Elizabeth Banks, somewhat of a surprising choice. Her last movie was the disappointing CHARLIE’S ANGELS remake and is also known for her PITCH PERFECT movies. She’s also one heck of a funny actress and I was quite surprised she didn’t appear here, but she gets the job done quite well. It’s quite a good looking movie overall with some good wilderness photography, if that’s up your alley. She and writer Jimmy Warden play very well off the aforementioned “true events” with a total wink of the eye.
The CG effects of the bear are obvious but it isn’t a distraction; Banks and her VFX team get a lot of mileage out of a digital version of a bear that defies gravity and even physics (one shot where she just flies down a branch of a tree to another needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, but there’s a great payoff involving a human limb that got a loud reaction at my screening). This is a much more comedic version of something like last year’s RRR where all of the animal creatures were digitally created and in both movies you can forgive the limitations of the effects work. Just go with it.
It does tend to drag a little bit in the second hour, especially when many of the multiple storylines crash into each other; a sequence where Whitllock Jr., is atop a gazebo in a standoff with the drug dealers goes on for far too long. Some of the jokes with the kids are a little over-the-top at times and hilarious in others. Keri Russell herself feels like she’s not in on the joke of the movie and takes things a bit too seriously. Of course it’s an outlandish premise that seems to be a bit more high on its idea than its actual execution at times. Moviegoers coming to see this on the title alone will be the same B-movie crowd that came to see SNAKES ON A PLANE or seeking a bit more gore and violence than the usual fare, which is also totally fine.
Even with my drawbacks, COCAINE BEAR has enough big laughs with its outlandish premise and it has some truly out-there, laugh out loud moments. A sequence with an escaping ambulance is a visceral highlight and certainly earns its adults-only rating. COCAINE BEAR gets a light recommendation from me, though it is more of a flick that you would see on the back half of a double bill at a drive-in or a Grindhouse on a summer night and less of a mass multiplex movie in February, but here we are.
COCAINE BEAR is now playing in theatres.