A few years ago, a clickbaitable news article began circulating the internet regaling a true story from the 80s about a bear that was found dead after having discovered and eaten 40 kilos of cocaine in the woods. Like any online urban legend, the details changed depending on who you asked, but the idea was consistent (and terrifying): a bear… on cocaine.
Screenwriter Jimmy Warden (THE BABYSITTER, THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN) has transposed this bit of internet folklore into a new feature film under the directorial helm of Elizabeth Banks (THE HUNGER GAMES, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER). When announced, the combination of these witty, talented artists mixed with the ridiculous yet titillating subject matter seemed like a perfect match for a horrific, frenzied comedy. However, much like cocaine, the movie’s highs are very high, and its lows are a real downer. Like the drug, the high never seems to last quite long enough.
Set in 1985, the film teeters back and forth between being an amusing (but seldom actually funny) romp and a gore-packed action flick. There’s some fun, gross, bloody bear mauling to be seen here, but unfortunately, there’s not enough of it, and it’s spaced out by lengthy scenes involving way too many characters. While I admit these separate storylines come together in the end pretty decently, the movie doesn’t really get moving until about the 40-minute mark (nearly the halfway point). There are comedic bits sprinkled sparingly throughout, but the less funny ones get more attention than the ones that work. The movie’s wittiest bits of dialogue are glossed over and not given time to land.
Despite the film’s uneven pacing, the cast seems to all be on the same page about what movie they’re in. Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Jesse Tyler Ferguson give solid, funny, and grounded performances. They’re goofy when they need to be and deathly serious when it counts. The three MVPs of the film, though, are Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Detective Bob, national treasure Margo Martindale as Park Ranger Liz, and the late, great Ray Liotta as cartel mover Syd White. Their sincere commitment is the reason the movie works, and they deserve some recognition for that.
The bear looks fake. There’s no way around it. CGI animals are seldom convincing, and while I understand that the film wouldn’t have achieved a fraction of what it goes for with puppetry and animatronics, even the kills and gore are distractingly computer animated. Showing the coked-out bear full-on so early in the film leaves little in the way of anticipation. It’s obvious this is no JAWS, and it doesn’t need to be, but when those filmmakers knew their shark looked fake, they hid it.
All that being said, COCAINE BEAR is worth a watch. It’s fun, if still flawed. I’d love to say it works best in a crowded, rowdy movie theater, but my mostly full audience wasn’t responding to more than a mere handful of moments that were clearly meant to evoke a reaction. Maybe I’m too desensitized, but for a movie about a bear on cocaine, somehow, it feels pretty tame.
COCAINE BEAR is currently showing in theaters.