Gloriously deranged Cocaine Bear is almost exactly what you expect
Naming a movie can sometimes be a tricky proposition. You can choose something that conveys the tone of the story, one that features the names of the main character(s), or one that simply tells where a story takes place. But sometimes, like with Snakes on a Plane, just telling the audience exactly what you’re going to show them does the trick.
The latter is the route that Cocaine Bear takes; if you go into a film with that title and expect anything more than a bear jacked up on coke and wreaking havoc, you need to have a better thought process. Very loosely based on a true story, the film opens on a drug smuggler dumping bag after bag full of cocaine bricks out of a plane for unknown reasons other than that the plane is going down.
Many of the bags land in a Georgia forest, where the title bear quickly becomes addicted to the drug. She proceeds to go on a rampage, running into a variety of people, including Sari (Keri Russell), who’s looking for daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend Henry (Christian Convery) after they skipped school; Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), two drug dealers sent to find the cocaine; Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a cop trying to find the drug dealers; park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) and her unrequited crush Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson); and more.
Directed by Elizabeth Banks and written by Jimmy Warden, the film goes further than you might think, but also oddly holds back in certain areas. If you prefer not to see blood and gore, steer far away from this film, as it – despite being a comedy/thriller - contains more than some horror movies. All of it is presented in a comical way with heightened situations, but the filmmakers do not shy away from showing the grisly results of the bear’s various maulings.
At its best, the film is gloriously deranged, as long as you’re in the proper mindset for its main tone. But it’s when the film diverges from that tone that it loses some momentum. There are multiple times when the filmmakers try to inject a bit of earnestness into the proceedings, and those scenes are jarring when they’re near or directly adjacent to utter mayhem. If they were going for balance, a less drastic shift would have been better.
The decision to keep the story from being completely absurd likely stems from the casting of the film. Some of the bold-face names, including Russell, Martindale, and Ray Liotta, are not known for their comedy work, so it makes sense to have them play things straight, for the most part. The funniest sections of the film tend to come from lesser-known actors, whose reactions to a high, murderous bear are exactly what you would want.
You don’t come to a film like this for the acting, but the pairing of Ehrenreich and Jackson works well. Prince, previously best known for The Florida Project, appears to be well on her way to a nice career. It’s nice to see Russell, but the role doesn’t seem to suit her. And it’s bittersweet seeing Liotta in one of his final roles, as his presence alone lends the film credibility.
Cocaine Bear delivers on the promise of its title, even if it sometimes stops short of all-out craziness. The over-the-top nature of its top scenes and unapologetic bloodiness make it worth the price of admission alone.
Cocaine Bear opens in theaters on February 24.