An oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists, and teens converges in a Georgia forest where a 500-pound black bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine.
When I first heard about the movie “Cocaine Bear,” I thought it was a joke, something that some teens with too much time on their hands had created to post on YouTube. However, thanks to Universal Pictures’ crackerjack marketing department, it kept popping up via various media sources. I soon came to the realization that this was an actual film from one of Hollywood’s most storied studios, one made by actor/director Elizabeth Banks of all people. What with theater attendance still down due to remaining Covid fears and the prevalence of streaming services in so many households, the industry is still trying to figure out how to get viewers back to the multiplex. Seems they’re willing to try about any sort of high interest, easy to understand concept that will create a buzz (pun intended). “Bear” certainly fits the bill, and the industry is watching the box office results very closely to see if this is the sort of thing that will help them get back on track. If money is made, I fear “Meth Muskrat” is in the offing.
But is the movie any good? I guess the best thing I can say about it is that it delivers on its title, you get exactly what you expect, and it clocks in at just over 90 minutes. Also on the plus side is that it is made with skill, those involved are in on the joke, not taking any of this too seriously and the CGI bear looks pretty darn good.
Beyond that, well…
The script by Jimmy Warden employs a certain degree of logic that for the most part doesn’t insult our intelligence. (However, why someone doesn’t just shoot the bear is beyond me? There are more than a few folks with firearms running around here.) The actual incident the film is so loosely based on occurred in 1985 in which millions of dollars of cocaine was dropped in the Chattahoochee National Forest by drug runners who had to abandon their malfunctioning airplane. Some of the white powder was found by a Black Bear, who authorities say ate 75 pounds of it. Needless to say, he died very quickly and was eventually sent to a local taxidermist. If you so wish, you can visit him at the Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington. Proving that sometimes there is no dignity after death, he has been named Pablo Escobear. I am not making any of this up.
The set up in the film mirrors these circumstances and Warden conjures up a roster of potential victims to cross paths with the rampaging, ursine user. Single mom Sari (Keri Russell) is in search of her daughter Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) and her friend Henry (Christian Convery) who’ve played hooky in order to visit the nearby national park. Eddie and Daveed (Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr.) have been dispatched by drug lord Syd (Ray Liotta) to retrieve as much of their product as they can. Meanwhile, park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) and facilities inspector Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) are out and about, looking for a trio of vandals, while police officer Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) in on the grounds, playing a hunch he’ll finally be able to arrest Syd and his cronies.
It takes a while to establish everyone’s back story and the film would have benefitted from a snappier pace. Fortunately, a bear on cocaine is easy to track, so the fact that these characters would cross paths holds water. And once the mayhem begins, it’s not for the squeamish. We’re treated to the sight of heads being bitten into, limbs ripped from bodies and faces mangled beyond recognition. Obviously, none of this is to be taken seriously and there’s a perverse, darkly comic quality to the mayhem that makes it easy to stomach. If you haven’t seen a black bear do a line off a severed leg, you haven’t lived.
“Cocaine Bear” is the sort of film that used to play at the bottom of double bills at drive-ins, albeit with a bigger budget than the forgettable “Night of the Grizzly” (1966) or “Grizzly” (1976). More than anything, this is a curiosity, a water cooler movie that executes its one joke as well as it can be done. That being said, it’s no smarter than your average bear movie.
2 1/2 Stars