A horror movie where Winnie the Pooh and Piglet go on a murderous rampage (Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey)? I didn’t even bother wasting my precious time with the idea that stupid. But a movie where a huge bear injects large amounts of the most dangerous white drug known to man? Now that locked my attention instantly. Cocaine Bear is one of those horror comedies that will sound utterly crazy to many people, with little even knowing Elizabeth Banks’ latest, produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, is actually based on a true story. Does it sound too crazy to be true? Yep, but from the excitement brought on by the trailer and the cast alone, all I wanted from this is a good time to take in the silliness of this R-rated creature feature. Yet, I shouldn’t have walked out of a movie titled Cocaine Bear feeling pretty underwhelmed with what we got.
What’s the Story: In 1985, a drug smuggler named Andrew C. Thornton II was tasked to drop a shipment of $14 million worth of cocaine from a cargo plane, but he knocked himself unconscious after his parachute didn’t open, falling to his death in Knoxville, Tennessee. So what happened after a few of those portions? Duffle bags were located in the Chattahoochee-Oconne National Forest in Georgia, where a 175-pound black bear takes it upon herself to eat the drug, leading it to become a hungry animal vicious enough to kill anybody in its sight while throughout the forest.
This is based on a true story and this was undoubtedly a more fictional take on what happened to go for a wild turn instead of telling the truth, as in real life, the bear died from digesting that much cocaine. Afterward, they stuffed it and can be seen in a mall in Kentucky, naming it Pablo Eskobear. And when you buy a ticket to a movie called Cocaine Bear, you have to know what you’re going into in the same vein as something like Snakes on a Plane. Those expecting this to be the next cult classic will have no problem turning their brains off in taking the movie for what it aimed to be in with its self-aware nature. But for some reason, I knew it isn’t one to take seriously and it’s messier than I thought.
Everybody knows Banks continues to be a talented actress over the years. As a director, she can be very hit-or-miss, depending on who you ask. Pitch Perfect 2 wasn’t better than its predecessor, but it’s a watchable sequel that also serves as a guilty pleasure. Though does anyone remember or even like the 2019 reboot of Charlie’s Angels? I did, and it was a forgettable movie that came and went deservedly so. Though it was an interesting choice to see how she’ll sell this along with screenwriter Jimmy Warden, and to their credit in building more of this story, this was an attempt at harkening back to the days of the insane and ridiculous movies where random animals wreak havoc that makes us scared of them. Does it mesh well with the jabs at humor is the real question. Not for me.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t as scary when it has moments of the clearly CGI bear done by the people over at WETA sneaking up and possibly making somebody in the audience jump in their seat. That’s not to say there’s no shortage of the titular bear getting into trouble in this single day and having people killed horribly in a bloody fashion, which we see claim an early victim before the title appears.
Whenever the bear’s no onscreen, they’re focusing the attention on the subplots of the other characters in the mix that’ll likely interconnect that this either don’t come back to a few of them or just aren’t as interesting to follow. I figured I didn’t go into this expecting any delpth to them, but still. Besides the attention to the bear, there’s single mother Sari (Keri Russell) searching for her daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend Henry (Sweet Tooth‘s Christian Convery), who ditch school to paint on the falls in the forest; drug dealers Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) on track to retrieve the remaining cocaine for drug kingpin Syd White (Ray Liotta); a park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) trying to get the attention of animal lover Peter, (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who has a lead to capture Syd finally. Keri Russell didn’t get much to do, which is why you would want not to give Felicity enough to work with. I believe the standouts go to O’Shea Jackson and Alden Ehrenreich in their scenes together. We haven’t seen Ehrenreich in too many movies recently since his turn in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and he’s the one character who definitely knows the movie he’s in as a guy who’s grief-stricken by the death of his wife and doesn’t want to resort to violence. It was also great to see the late Ray Liotta, who sadly passed away last May and this is one of his final performances he completed.
This could have been a more violent Kangaroo Jack, except the bear doesn’t rap and instead rips your limbs. For a concise 95 minutes, the pacing was off, especially when it’s setting up all the characters in the first half without seeing much of the bear, making it pretty dull sometimes. But when it wants to be a comedy, almost all of the jokes fall flat to the point where I wasn’t laughing in the theater and had a hard time depending on if something violent was intended to be funny. The closest a chuckle got out of me involved Witlock Jr. on top of a gazebo. I like horror comedies as much as the next guy, but the overall vibe throughout wasn’t hitting me for what could’ve been my bread and butter. The only memorable action sequence to take away from this was this wild ambulance chase set to Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Unfortunately, nothing else topped that. Everything else under Banks’ direction was just a run of the course without much real excitement.
Hate to say it, and I’m in the minority when I say Cocaine Bear didn’t live up to its crazy premise behind it. Not that I went into this hoping to be an early contender since I just want it to be stupidly entertaining and I know it’s meant to be stupid. Hell, the title itself is purely cinematic, rightly so. But the tones clashing between a gory throwback to the B-movies of the ’80s and wacky comedy, along with the uninteresting human characters, could have been more fun than I thought. Everyone else pretty much had a blast with this, while I don’t see why entirely.
Cocaine Bear is now playing in theaters everywhere| Runtime: 95 Minutes| Rated R for bloody violence and gore, drug content and language throughout| Studio: Universal Pictures