One of the things I always lament is that the major studios have gotten away from original premises. We used to get a steady stream of “high concept” films that were powered by irresistible ideas. The fun of going to them was seeing something you’d never seen before. Now we just get sequels, prequels, reboots, spin-offs, and (gag) cinematic universes. Cocaine Bear is a welcome throwback. It’s about a bear that eats cocaine and goes on a killing spree. Now that’s original!
The movie opens with a drug smuggler tossing duffel bags full of coke out of an airplane. He’s supposed to skydive down with them, but knocks himself unconscious jumping out, then falls to his demise. On the ground, a black bear finds the stash and eats a package of it. There are a bunch of humans who are in the wilderness with the beast. Worried mom Sari (Keri Russell) goes looking for her missing daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince). Cop Bob (Isaiah Whitlock, Jr.) starts poking around after some of the drugs are found. Syd White (Ray Liotta), the kingpin to whom the stash belongs, sends his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and employee Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) to retrieve the drugs. There’s also Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), who is used to wild animals, just not ones this wild.
Cocaine Bear is not heavy on plot. It basically sets the premise in motion, then lets you watch as the violent mayhem plays out. There’s plenty of blood and gore here, although director Elizabeth Banks – working from an intentionally zany script by Jimmy Warden – stages the attacks in an over-the-top manner meant to be more funny than gag-inducing. Most of the slayings come with a twist, as when several characters attempt to flee in an ambulance, only to discover that the bear is able to run really, really fast when coked up. It’s a sly joke that every time it seems prepared to settle down, the animal finds more cocaine and is therefore able to continue the frenzy. Seriously, Al Pacino didn’t do this much blow in Scarface.
Outrageous bear maulings aside, the movie earns laughs with its characters. Frankly, we want to see a few of these people get eaten. Everyone has either a quirky personality or a personal trait that makes putting them in the bear’s vicinity humorous. A particularly hilarious scene finds Bob trapped on top of a gazebo as the bear circles Eddie, Daveed, and another guy on the ground. Listening to them bicker as unexpected events play out is comical because they’re all trying to outwit each other while still trying to avoid becoming bear chow.
Excellent CGI effects bring the bear to life. Even when doing things bears don’t typically do, it never looks less than completely real. That allows the film to hit the sweet spot of being gruesome and funny simultaneously. Cocaine Bear is designed to be an exercise in entertainment through exaggeration. When the bear rips off a limb or sinks its teeth into a person, we’re meant to recognize the horror of that as we’re laughing at the sheer preposterousness of it. Like the recent M3GAN, insanity is the whole point.
The movie does insanity well. You know exactly what you’re getting, and if that’s what you want, you will not be disappointed. Cocaine Bear obviously doesn’t have any real substance, nor a greater meaning. It’s simply a story of a bear that eats coke and goes bonkers. Big laughs spring from that idea. Letting a film amuse you with a deliberately cuckoo premise can be extraordinarily fun, as well as a great way to drown out the chaos of the world for a short time. Whatever problems you may have in life, at least you don’t have a bear jacked up on coke chasing after you. This 95-minute burst of madness made me happy.
out of four
Cocaine Bear is rated R for bloody violence and gore, drug content, and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.