Film Review: Cocaine Bear
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Lord Miller Productions
In Theaters: 02.24
A movie that shows potential for silly cult classic immortality, yet made on a studio level with an actual budget, is something that we don’t see often, One that actually follows through on it’s promise is even more rare. Cocaine Bear was a bit of risky project, because it could have been an infamous embarrassment if it didn’t work. Right now, nobody is embarrassed.
Inspired by the true story of Andrew C. Thornton’s 1985 plane crash, Cocaine Bear focuses on a speculative account of what might have happened between the time that Thornton dropped the cargo of drugs into the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and the discovery of the black bear who was later found to have eaten much of it. An oddball assortment of characters find themselves in the path of the bear, including: Dee Dee and Henry (Brooklyn Prince and Christian Convery), two kids playing hooky from school; Sari (Keri Russell), Dee Dee’s mother; Eddie and Daveed (Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson, Jr), who are searching for the drugs on behalf of Syd White (Ray Liotta), the kingpin they were being delivered to; and Bob (Isaiah Whitlock), a cop trying to find the evidence. All of these hapless fools are thrust into a wild, bloody nightmare as the bear goes on a coked-out rampage, prepared to do away with anyone who stands between it and more of the good stuff.
Cocaine Bear is relentlessly bloody, somewhat convoluted and at times a bit too campy (the characters of the Park Rangers are a bit too cartoonish, both in terms of acting and look, and play more like sketch comedy characters that clash with the rest of the film) . Somehow, the mix evens out and makes for a uniquely entertaining moviegoing experience. When it comes to turning dumb ideas into pure gold through sheer, tongue-in-cheek willpower, producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who co-directed The Lego Movie and also produced Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse and The Mitchells and the Machines) are peerless, and Cocaine Bear is the most gleeful celebration of schlocky B-movie plotting and sensationalism since Snakes of a Plane in 2006.
Director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2, Charlie’s Angels), shows off her subversive side and clearly enjoys every minute of it. Banks handles the foreshadowing and suspense in the Jaws-like buildup with a lot of flair, though it’s the choices she makes with the bear’s manic behavior and enhanced energy that make the movie. The CGI isn’t 100% convincing, though it’s close enough, and the slightly cartoonish aspect adds to the humor.
The lead performances are strong, and Russell, clad in a distinctly ’80s pink jumpsuit, shines as the tenacious mother. Eherenreich, who already turned in a spectacular performance in the Sundance favorite Fair Play earlier this year, flexes his comic chops and gets some big laughs. Liotta, in his final film performance, is a hoot, relishing a comic take on the type of villains he played so well, and Whitlock is the standout as the lovable Bob.
Cocaine Bear is not for the squeamish, and I found one or two moments involving gunplay to be a little much. Cocaine Bear is one of the most entertaining movies of the year so far. It’s without question the stupidest film that I can’t wait to own, and I hope that it leads to Banks getting to make more daring films that are outside of the narrow niche where Hollywood seems determined to put her. She’s a versatile talent who deserves more opportunities. –Patrick Gibbs
Read more reviews of movies reaching for cult-classic status:
Film Review: M3GAN
Film Review: Violent Night
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