Some titles of movies you have to really think about. Others are self-explanatory. Cocaine Bear does precisely what it says on the tin. Like other nature terrorises films following the same lines as Jaws, this darkly comic gore-fest never takes itself too seriously. After the recent crop of award wannabes dealing with heavy and vital subjects, such as obesity, religion and race, watching a rampaging black bear high on drugs randomly attacking helpless humans is somewhat refreshing. What is also surprising is that this is based very loosely on actual events.
In 1985 a plane full of bags of cocaine crashed outside the forests of Georgia. The airborne drug runner threw the bags out of the doomed plane, landing across the woodlands, only to be discovered by a black bear, who ingests the stash, causing the creature to go on a brutal rampage, as a mix of criminals, cops, a forestry ranger, a single mother, her daughter and the daughter’s friend, all head into the forest, all lining up to be the animal’s lunch.
Directed by actress Elizabeth Banks, her third feature behind the camera, after Pitch Perfect 2 and Charlie’s Angels, knows that the material is outrageous and handles it with her tongue firmly rammed into the cheek. This B-movie creature feature with an A-movie sheen has all the hallmarks of this kind of film. A mixed bag of characters, all possible targets for an animal out of control. The kind of film Roger Corman would have produced by the dozen in the 70s.
The difference is that screenwriter Jimmy Warden and Banks give the characters more depth. There’s Sari, a single mother who works as a nurse, dealing with a daughter who decides to skip school to paint a waterfall, joined by a friend whose family life is almost non-existent. There’s Daveed, a drug dealer hired by gangland boss Sydney White to find the missing stash, along with Syd’s son, Eddie, a man grieving for his dead partner. Finally, a cop, Bob, who thinks the cocaine will lead to the arrest of Sydney White. Throw in a forest ranger who wants to impress the local forest inspector, three teenager petty thieves and a few more disposable characters and the scene is set for carnage.
The bear is at the heart of the film, a CGI creation in which some moments look realistic enough to believe and, in others, look like something created for a computer game. Regarding the gore factor, yes, there are body parts aplenty, but they are never so graphic to be sickening. You know this is not to be taken too seriously, so when a limb appears, you know it’s fake and, in some cases, played entirely for laughs. A sequence involving an ambulance is a real high point.
The cast of solid actors all seems to be having the time of their lives. Keri Russell, star of the TV series, The Americans, is ideally suited as the mother. O’Shea Jackson Jr, as Daveed, has fun as a man more obsessed with how he looks than his mission, while Alden Ehrenreich, or Han Solo, seems to be having a blast playing the grief-ridden Eddie. Add to the cast the late Ray Liotta playing the drug king, Syd, in his final screen appearance.
Cocaine Bear is far from high art. It’s never going to change the world of cinema and will probably be forgotten about six months later. It does the trick if you are looking for a fun, entertaining slice of nonsense for a Friday or a Saturday night. If you are looking for something more intelligent, you won’t find it in a film called Cocaine Bear.
3 out of 5
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Starring: Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Alden Ehrenreich, Ray Liotta, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Brooklyn Prince, Christian Convery, Margo Martindale
Written by: Jimmy Warden
Running Time: 95 mins
Release date: 24th February 2023