This cocaine-fueled ludicrous thriller is a sloppy crowd-pleaser and commits hard to its premise.
“The bear, it f*cking did cocaine! A bear did cocaine!” a character cries in disbelief partway through the film, which effectively sums up the entire thing.
The theater for the 9:35 pm showing of “Cocaine Bear” was packed nearly to capacity with abundant chatter. The boisterous Friday-night crowd was reveling in the over-the-top mayhem, caused by a murderous bear that is addicted to cocaine. Claps and cheers rose gleefully from the crowd as the title card for the film flashed across the screen over a freeze-frame of the titular character.
The beginning of the film sets the tone: an ‘80s tune blasts from the speakers as a man (high on cocaine) begins tossing red duffel bags out of an airplane. High out of his mind, he leaps dramatically from the plane, but unfortunately does not make it safely to the ground. The cocaine, now littered across the Chattahoochee, Georgia national park, attracts a bear. After ingesting it, the bear brutally (and comedically) attacks a pair of foreign hikers.
Shortly after, Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince), a 13-year-old living nearby, skips school with her friend Henry (Christian Convery), while her mother Sari (Keri Russell) is at work. They venture into the national park to paint a waterfall, but on the way, they happen upon some of the bags of cocaine. Unbeknownst to them, the bear has arrived to gobble up more of that sweet nose candy.
When Sari discovers her daughter is gone, she enlists the help of the reluctant ranger Liz, and Liz’s dorky crush Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), to find Dee Dee and Henry – a choice that will ultimately come back to bite them.
While this is occuring, Eddie (Alden Eirenreich) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) are sent by Eddie’s father Syd (Ray Liotta), who the cocaine belonged to, to get his cocaine back. Along the way, they run into a group of dimwitted delinquent teens. Due to the illegal nature of the situation, a no-nonsense detective, Bob (Isaiah Whitlock Jr), also arrives in the forest with plans to catch Eddie and Daveed. All the while, the cocaine bear kills and wreaks havoc on the unsuspecting groups.
Only Tony Montana rivals the “Cocaine Bear” in violence and sheer amount of cocaine consumption; the bear is an unstoppable, high-out-of-its-mind, deranged creature that delights in tearing people limb from limb.
An explanation of how black bears aren’t dangerous serves as a precursor to the film, before hilariously revealing the source to be Wikipedia. This is accompanied by the phrase “based on true events,” which is a loose statement used for comedy; a bear really did get into a large amount of cocaine that had been dumped in a forest in 1985, but it sadly died from an overdose rather than terrorizing a group of people.
The performances are purposefully over the top. Keri Russell acts as more of a straight man while everyone else is varying degrees of ridiculous. In response to witnessing a brutal murder at the paws of the bear, Henry (the young boy) remarks matter-of-factly,
“I’d love to not remember this. But it kind of seems like the thing that stays with a man forever.”
His line delivery was spot-on for the feeling of the film – dark, silly, and exaggerated.
When I learned this was one of the late great Ray Liotta’s last performances, I feared it was going to be a bad movie that tarnished his legacy– but the film, while of course unserious, is not a terrible last film to have (but it is odd), and it appeared as though everyone had a good time making it. This is evident from ample social media posts by Scott Seiss (a comedian who plays a paramedic in the film) detailing the behind-the-scenes process.
The film is not worried about being realistic – its energy is put into the outrageous action sequences and enjoyable banter between the characters. A lot of the technical aspects – such as editing – are thrown to the wayside and the film is a bit slapdash in its construction. This isn’t especially surprising given the film’s subject, but it didn’t impact the audience’s enjoyment in the slightest. The look of the film is bright and sunny, which was actually a welcomed switch-up from other similar films of the genre– and the ‘80s setting was utilized well for humor and style.
It is abundantly gory and violent, and doesn’t hold back with cartoonishly graphic images. Legs are thrown, blood is spurting, faces are eaten and heads and hands are torn off; it got so grisly at some points that I found my stomach turning. However, the audience was experiencing pure joy for the majority of the film, as the theater was often filled with uproarious laughter and amused curses as each character was disemboweled or beheaded.
Elizabeth Banks seemed an odd choice for director – her other directorial work includes “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Charlie’s Angels” which seem a far cry from a horror comedy – but her sense of humor worked well with the silly concept.
The marketing of this film has proven to be quite successful – I myself wanted to see it because I wanted to know if it could live up to the hype. The movie’s website features a mobile game where you can play as the bear. Scott Seiss utilized his popular comedy video formats to talk about the film– Elizabeth Banks even had a fantastic photoshoot for Variety magazine with a bear (not a real one, I’m sure).
Banks stated in the interview for Variety that “This could be a career ender for me.”
It seems, however, that Banks doesn’t have anything to worry about– “Cocaine Bear” has had a successful opening weekend, and is likely to make back its budget and more. The word-of-mouth alone has bolstered the movie’s accomplishments.
The best moments were character interactions and when the bear was being goofy rather than intimidating. Fans of the genre should enjoy it, but those who are sensitive to gore may not. The movie is not deep or particularly artful, and the violence was a bit nausea-inducing, but the audience was extremely engaged the whole time and it seems fair to say that the film could end up as a comedy horror classic.
“Cocaine Bear” is currently in theaters.