When I first heard about Cocaine Bear, and then when I saw the preview trailer, I was all in. A bear ingests a bunch of cocaine and goes on a bloody rampage? Sign … me … up!
That first paragraph, I realize, could be used as a pull quote somewhere, and make it seem like I liked the movie. Well, this second paragraph is here to tell you that I most certainly did not.
We are looking at one of the best premises for a film we are likely to see this year. Unfortunately, it’s a premise that gets burned up in the movie’s first half, with the second half being a complete disaster—and not in that “so bad it’s good” kind of way. The film goes from being fun and zany to being a dreary slog … which, upon deeper analysis, is sort of like your average cocaine bender.
Director Elizabeth Banks begins the movie with a sweet tribute to Wet Hot American Summer, a film that put her on the map as a comic actress. (Her barbecue sauce scene with Paul Rudd is a cinema classic.) Things get off to a relatively good start as the film gets right to the business of humans getting consumed by a bear who loves the coke.
Cocaine Bear is based, very loosely, on a 1985 incident in which a bear (allegedly) fatally overdosed on cocaine dropped from a smuggler’s plane. The film takes that premise and tells a story where that bear survives the big bump—and starts eating people.
The initial bear encounters are amusing enough, especially when two hiking kids (the very funny Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery) come across the extremely high bear after ingesting a little bit of coke themselves. Banks seems to be onto something—creating an outrageous, politically incorrect world in which kids and bears do coke, and the bear craves bloody human meat. It’s a balancing act for sure, and Banks seems capable of performing it in the opening scenes.
But the laughs go away when some drug-smugglers played by Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and the late Ray Liotta get too much screentime. Too many scenes seem padded, as if they only had a 60-minute movie and needed to stretch things out. The pacing grinds to a halt, especially when focusing on the drug dealers.
While there are a few more movies coming out with Liotta in them (still in post-production), this is the last movie he finished filming before his passing. He does some good stuff here—before the action takes his character in an uninteresting, predictable direction. It’s not a worthy swan song for the great actor.
This is a movie where nothing should be predictable, yet everything that happens in the last half-hour is rote. Banks does have another sequence earlier in the film involving a park ranger and some paramedics that scores some laughs, but the laughs are replaced by groans and yawns down the stretch. Banks simply doesn’t stick the landing.
While much of the movie is shot in daylight, the finale is a lame nighttime waterfall sequence involving the drug dealers, the kids and a mom (Keri Russell, doing all that she can with what she is given). Maybe the money ran out? Maybe the crew bit off a little more than they could chew? Whatever happened, the sequence is a dud and seals the film’s fate as drastically mediocre.
Also: Maybe it was just me, but bear attacks are pretty disturbing, much more disturbing than watching some make-believe slasher icon take out some teenagers. Some of the gory sequences are funny enough, but a couple of them had me squirming in a way that didn’t jibe with the intended zaniness of the film. I felt more like I was watching Harold Perrineau getting ripped apart by Bart the Bear in The Edge than watching a horror/comedy spoof. Mixing comedy and horror can be hard.
This is one of those movies where I’m sort of glad it exists, even though I didn’t like it in the end. There should be more nutball, insane, outrageous cinema out there, and I’m impressed this got greenlit. Now filmmakers just need to make sure that the people helming these crazy ideas have a crazy, consistent style that goes along with the insane premises.