When the ridiculous feature starts with a warning about bears in the wilderness, citing Wikipedia, you know you’re in one heck of a time. And to top it off, Cocaine Bear is all about a “bear doing ****ing cocaine!” Loosely based on a real-life incident in the 80s involving a bear ingesting the titular drug, the motion picture is unabashedly stupid that you realize it’s not asinine enough.
Wait, what? Audiences were heavily into the marketing revolving around a monstrous CGI bear unleashing havoc on a group of people in the wilderness in Georgia, so much so that the Internet took part in its incredulous premise. People are fascinated by the “man vs. nature” ideal, primarily because we share similar traits with animals that our instinct is to defend or draw away in terror. Jaws, Anaconda, Snakes on a Plane, Alligator, and more all take great pride in showcasing our fears with such animals; Cocaine Bear turns it up by twenty by including a bear becoming stoned. However, director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2, Charlie’s Angels) is all over the place in this 95-minute feature, trying one-too-many different genres simultaneously when the mayhem should’ve maintained the spotlight.
The plot kicks off with a narcotics officer turned drug smuggler tossing multiple bags of cocaine out of a plane before failing to jump out himself. Police and criminals jump in on the action, trying to locate the missing drugs. But in the wilderness, a black bear finds a brick of cocaine and eats it, going nuts and running roughshod over any additional people that come in its way as it tries to snuff up more. Gratuitous violence jumps at every bit it can when the bear’s claws are ripping out folks’ guts and then removing limbs like candy. Some of it is ridiculous that laughs are intended while other moments are attempted with passable showcases of suspense and tension.
The cast is all interlinked over the cocaine falling out of the sky in some fashion: Sari (Keri Russell) is a nurse searching for her thirteen-year-old daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend Henry (Christian Convery), where both skipped school and decided to go venturing out in the park to find the waterfall but stumble upon some bricks. Then, there’s drug lord Syd (Ray Liotta in one of his last performances) dispatching his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and his friend Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to locate all the remaining bags of coke. Plus, we have detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) trying to locate the thugs and a group of misfit teenagers joins the fray to get high. Lastly, the park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) is trying to make an impression on an animal rights activist named Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).
Oh, and this amped-up bear is all over the place, killing folks who reek of the drug and chasing others who attempt to flee it. Not many of us are trained to handle bears, but has anyone ever thought of doing something sensible in this scenario? That question seems profusely apparent, although the movie will convince you many folks fail at being decent human beings. Even when earmarked as a fantasy, it fails at grounding it in any sense of emotion or reality. Perhaps it should be evaluated as such, considering we do get backdrops of “Jane” by Jefferson Starship and “On the Wings of Love” by Jeffrey Osborne amidst gruesome deaths (that are pulled out of a playbook by Final Destination or The Suicide Squad). Hence, it returns to the previous point of what this feature tries to be.
Had director Banks gone zanier with the namesake title, we’d probably be more fond of Cocaine Bear‘s antics and remembrance of the late Ray Liotta. Instead, we got a mediocrely frivolous feature that makes good fun of select bear attacks for spectacle and other moments that lack any substance that audiences beseech for more to fulfill its gonzo potential. It would be unfavorable to differentiate the amount of cocaine in this film compared to Liotta’s Goodfellas, but that crime classic is too damn good not to invest in.
Nonetheless, Cocaine Bear is a fun mess, but its charm for an appealing premise will fade away expeditiously.