Cocaine Bear – movie review

Has the art of movie titling been lost? Following on from the recent Women Talking comes another film that does exactly what it says on the box with Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear.

Cocaine Bear is (very) loosely based on real events. Drug smugglers did indeed dump a load of cocaine over northern Georgia and southern Tennessee in 1985. And yes, it seems a black bear did get into that cocaine. But that’s where the similarities end. For a start, the bear was found dead after ingesting the drug. In Banks’ film, the bear is very much alive (albeit CGI) and on a rampage to find more coke. So the quirky anecdote about a bear getting into drugs has morphed into what’s basically a bear slasher movie.

The plot is simple. A bear has gone wild having snorted some of the dumped cocaine. It wants more. Humans come into contact with the bear. Mayhem ensues.

Among the humans are Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr) and Eddie (Aiden Ehrenreich), foot soldiers of drug lord Syd (Ray Liotta). They’re predictably searching for the drugs. Detective Bob (Isaiah Whitlock) and Officer Reba (Ayoola Smart) are on their tail. DeeDee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery) are poppets-in-peril, lost in the woods. DeeDee’s mum Sari (Keri Russell) is frantically searching for them. Park Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) is on a sneaky date with Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) when the bear shows up.

The script from Jimmy Warden is heavy on action and bloodshed but light on just about everything else. A late effort to add a bit of depth by aligning the bear’s actions with Sari’s falls rather flat. Still, if you’re going to a movie called Cocaine Bear, I’m guessing character development and plot cohesion aren’t high on the agenda. For all its superficiality though, Cocaine Bear delivers gory popcorn action for an adult audience. Actor-turned director Banks (Charlie’s Angels) keeps the movie humming along, aided in no small part by Mark Mothersbaugh’s score (which really deserves a better movie).

The performances from the surprisingly large cast are, well, mixed. Keri Russell (Antlers) does a fine job as the putative hero; but some of the supporting cast are a bit wooden, while others are poorly served by the script. Cocaine Bear also marks the final completed film of the great Ray Liotta (Goodfellas).

Although it’s never going to win awards, Cocaine Bear delivers a visceral comic adventure and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Is that enough? For me, no – but if you’re into drugged-animal based action-horror, then you go for it.

David Edwards

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