From tornadoes in Twister to forest fires in Those Who Wish Me Dead, film offers no shortage of warnings about the awesome power of nature. Such natural disasters are unplanned and largely out of our control. But what happens when nature’s vengeance is the direct fault of humans? Cocaine Bear (which should win an Oscar for Best Film Title of the Year), answers that question, albeit in humorous ways.
What starts as a drug run gone wrong leads to 75-pounds of cocaine being dropped from an airplane and scattered in the wilderness of a Georgia forest. In a different movie, the drugs would be swiftly located, confiscated, and all would be well. But Cocaine Bear is not that kind of movie. The drug drop is the event that kickstarts the hijinks of the film as characters begin to find, interact with, and, yes, ingest, the drugs. There’s no-nonsense Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), who just wants a little one-on-one time with her quirky crush, Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Sari (Keri Russell), who’s searching for her school-skipping daughter, and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), who’s trying to escape the shadow of his fixer father, Syd (Ray Liotta), among others.
Martindale is a treat as the incompetent Liz, and her commitment to the material and comedic timing breath genuine hilarity into a role that would be forgettable in lesser hands. But the real standouts here are Christian Convery and Brooklynn Prince as friends Henry and Dee Dee. Their portrayal of innocent kids on the cusp of adolescence yields the film’s greatest laughs. In one of the funniest scenes, Henry tries cocaine to impress Dee Dee, not knowing that you’re not supposed to eat it by the mouthful. The underage drug content might be offensive to some, but director Elizabeth Banks handles it well, eschewing shock value for sentiment.
“But what about the cocaine-eating bear?” you ask. “I want to know about the cocaine-eating bear!”
At first, Banks builds suspense by smartly treating the bear as a horror movie villain like Michael Myers. We get small glimpses at first—movement in the trees here, a paw there—before she’s fully revealed in all her coked-up glory. And when she is, she’s a sight to behold, chasing and maiming and shredding unsuspecting forest-goers in her pursuit for—you guessed it—more cocaine. Horror and comedy can be tricky tones to mesh, but Banks and company do it fairly well here. There are times when we fear the bear (dragging a hiker into the forest), and times when we laugh at her ridiculousness (standing on her hind legs as she ingests a nose full of cocaine dust). The bear is the lynchpin the movie hinges on, and she definitely delivers on both laughs and frights—despite some instances of questionable CGI.
There’s a lot to like here—a humorous opening kill, the 1980s soundtrack and score, as well as lighting and scenery that give the film a light, summery feel—but the proceedings end up feeling somewhat slow paced, an issue that might have been rectified by cutting down on the number of characters and instead honing in on a select few. Although each of them has quirks that make them worthwhile to check in with from time to time, there’s just too many of them. And aside from several laugh out loud moments (a sequence with the bear chasing an ambulance is the film’s funniest and most wonderfully bonkers), the film isn’t as funny as I was hoping it would be.
Cocaine Bear is much more outrageous than the true story that inspired it, and that’s okay. It’s the kind of story that brings authenticity to the saying that truth is stranger than fiction. If you’re in the mood for a breezy horror-comedy to get you ready for spending summer outdoors, it might be perfect viewing in your neck of the woods. But aside from a couple memorable set pieces and jokes, the film ends up being somewhat akin to the junk food that you might hide from a bear while camping—it satisfies a craving, but is ultimately forgettable.
Wicked Rating: 7/10
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The Maximum Rampage Edition of Cocaine Bear comes loaded with over 25-minutes of extra content not seen in theaters. Aside from a feature commentary with director/producer Elizabeth Banks and producer Max Handelman, the Blu-ray features a short gag reel (2-minutes), deleted and extended scenes (4-minutes), as well as an alternate ending (1 minute) that should inspire a sequel.
There are also three featurettes:
All Roads Lead to Cokey: The Making of Cocaine Bear – Interviews with the cast and crew about making the film, utilizing practical effects, and bringing the true story of Cocaine Bear to life (9-minutes)
UnBEARable Bloodbath: Dissecting the Kills – Interviews with the cast about their characters’ death scenes, as well as insight into the film’s practical effects from Elizabeth Banks. This is a solid featurette that offers worthwhile insight into bringing the film’s goriest and most over-the-top sequences to life (8-minutes)
Doing Lines – A mostly fluff feature where the cast and filmmakers read lines from the film’s script (4-minutes)
Cocaine Bear is now available on Digital and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 18, 2023.