'Cocaine Bear' review: Get high on this supply
Courtesy of Universal
An instant, memeable creation, “Cocaine Bear” comes as advertised: a hyper-caffeinated, bloody affair featuring a gonzo CGI bear who, after inhaling an obscene amount of cocaine, goes full rampage mode. What else would any paying moviegoer expect from Elizabeth Bank’s wild new comedy that features an incredible ensemble of characters trying to make sense of the situation they’ve become entangled in? It’s a miracle anything remotely akin to “Cocaine Bear” has wound up in theaters at a time when studios have prioritized streaming fare and regurgitating dated franchises. "Cocaine Bear” isn’t revolutionary, but it’s absurd, silly, and dumb goofy fun. That's the point!
Loosely based on a true story of a drug smuggler (played briefly by Matthew Rhys) who tossed duffel bags of cocaine out of an airplane over Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest circa 1985, “Cocaine Bear” offers a unique revisionist history on what actually happened. Obviously, a bear ingesting copious amounts of cocaine is fatal, but in Jimmy Warden’s outrageous screenplay, the bear (who doesn’t have a name, although we find out it’s a she) goes on a binge after finding the smuggler’s ditched stash. On paper, it’s a thin premise and the intersecting plot threads (of which, there are many) occasionally struggle to hold the screen, but when our furry apex predator comes looking for something to munch on, all bets (and limbs) are off.
Punctuated by an excellent, retro score by composer Mark Mothersbaugh, “Cocaine Bear” juggles the overstuffed screenplay with a keen sense of meta-awareness. One of the story beats follows local policeman Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr) looking for answers on the fallen drugs while a St Louis kingpin named Syd (the great Ray Liotta in one of his final roles and of whom the film is dedicated) sends his lackeys, Daveed (O’ Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) to also retrieve the expensive bounty. (The banter and comedic rat-ta-tat that transpires between these two knuckleheads grounds the script’s sillier elements).
Meanwhile, tweens Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery) skip school and go into the park, forcing Dee’s mom, a nurse named Sari (Kerri Russell) to follow after them; then there’s park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) and her crush, wildlife inspector Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson - sporting an incredible wig) as well as various hikers and hoodlums who have “reasons” for being in the cocaine bear danger zone. Don’t go digging too deep into the metaphorical subtext of each character’s internal dilemma (you won’t find much), but their presence provides enough fresh meat and outrageous death sequences that earn the movie's over-the-top R rating.
And Banks holds a firm tone throughout “Cocaine Bear,” interjecting hilarious quips about Wikipedia sourced facts on fighting bears and a comical segment involving Regan’s war on drugs in between the coke-fueled madness. She ensures each narrative yarn moves briskly and there's enough humanity to make us stay invested in the characters’ journey, despite the scant 90-minute runtime taking precious time away from the bear’s chaotic feasting (be honest, it’s why you’re here in the first place).
In the end, Banks knows what this movie is and tastefully leans into the premise, even when it looks like things are getting bleak. From period appropriate needle drops, costuming, and a sensational cast, “Cocaine Bear” maintains its sense of identity and has no issue pushing audiences' endurance of such a ludicrous premise.
Take a big snort.
COCAINE BEAR is now playing in theaters.