If you’re already planning on sitting down to a movie called Cocaine Bear this weekend, there isn’t much more to be said. They got you, you bought into the premise, and you’re perfectly happy with wherever the movie takes you, as long as the promise of the title is kept: there will be a bear, and there will be unhealthy (but really, how much would be healthy) amounts of cocaine.
Well, there is definitely a bear, and there is definitely a lot of cocaine. Success!
It’s not what the movie is about, but how it goes about it, Roger Ebert famously said, and that is especially true for Cocaine Bear. They already have your money – so what more does Cocaine Bear have to do? Surprisingly, director Elizabeth Banks goes above and beyond the call of duty (or the wild), and gives audiences exactly what they want and more.
Cocaine Bear is fun, breezy, silly, and doesn’t spare the gore. This isn’t a movie about the human condition, unless that condition is to be attacked and eaten by a drug-addled ursine. We don’t really care about these characters, as long as they say something funny or stupid before being chased and/or eaten. Pound for pound, Cocaine Bear entertains at just the right levels, and most audiences will come away satisfied.
Ostensibly based on true events (but let’s be serious, there’s no way any of this really happened to the degree we see here), Cocaine Bear could be a proto-sequel to Tom Cruise‘s American Made in a funny way – In the spring of 1985, a drug dealer airdrops bricks of cocaine in the Tennessee mountains, but gets himself knocked out and falls to his death with over 70 pounds of the drug.
A bear consumes the cocaine and begins jonesing for the powder, attacking anyone coming in the area, including two inept drug dealers and their boss (Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Ray Liotta in one of his final roles), a mother (Keri Russell), her hooky-playing daughter (Brooklynn Prince) and best friend (Christian Convery), a cop in pursuit of the drugs (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), and two park rangers (Margo Martindale and Jesse Tyler Ferguson).
Frankly, most of these characters aren’t very compelling; a lot of the time we’re just waiting for the bear to show up and wreak havoc. But when it does appear, Banks knows how to ramp up the tension right along with the humor and the ridiculousness of the situation. If my audience was any indication, there was much ensuing of hilarity.
Cocaine Bear isn’t hitting its targets with any real precision – it doesn’t have to. The target is basically the size of a mountain – it’s pretty tough to miss. What’s fun about Cocaine Bear is that Elizabeth Banks is willing to explore just how extreme a movie called Cocaine Bear can get. She’s unloading at that mountain with her entire arsenal, and more often than not, she’s pounding that sucker.
Cocaine Bear could have called its shot and went for a PG-13 and audiences would have happily went. Instead, Cocaine Bear is a pretty hard R, full of spectacular gore and intense moments. It’s all in good fun, but Banks could have pulled punches and she doesn’t do that at all.
We like these characters just enough to wince a little when many of them become bear fodder, but we didn’t buy tickets to see NY-QUIL BEAR, did we? No we did not.
Movies like Cocaine Bear are difficult to review — as I said, anyone buying a ticket to a movie like this knows what they want and the movie delivers just as advertised — so the only angle is just how much the filmmakers commit to the premise. So let’s just say that the filmmakers get high on their own supply a lot here.
Cocaine Bear‘s dumb but not insulting, stupid but clever, and it’s in on the joke just as much as the audience is. It’s a movie engineered to be a ride – it’s practically Meme: The Movie if you want to be honest, and while I suspect Cocaine Bear will disappear like cotton candy (or a couple of lines at a 1980s dance party) over time, while you’re under its influence, it feels great.
We all have to come down sometime, but in the thick of it, Cocaine Bear puts a smile on even the most jaded filmgoer’s face. Bring the powdered donuts and have a ball.
COCAINE BEAR REVIEW SCORE: 7 OUT OF 10
Universal Pictures‘ Cocaine Bear is now playing in theaters. The movie is rated R for bloody violence and gore, drug content and language throughout.
Alan Cerny has been writing about film for more than 20 years, for such sites as Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD, Birth Movies Death, and ComingSoon. He is a member of the Houston Film Critics Society since 2011. STAR WARS biased. Steven Spielberg once called Alan a “very good writer” and Alan has the signed letter to prove it, so it must be true.