"An apex predator, high on cocaine, and you're going towards it?!"
Set in 1985, the true story elements of "Cocaine Bear" concern drug smuggler Andrew Thornton, who dropped vast amounts of cocaine into the Georgia wilderness from aboard his Cessna 404 Titan. Thornton jumped from the plane, hoping to land safely, but his parachute didn't open, and he was killed instantly when he landed in Knoxville, Tennessee. Some of the cocaine he dropped from the plane was found to be consumed by a black bear, who ingested large quantities of the drug and ultimately died of an overdose.
Of course, director Elizabeth Banks and her ensemble cast don't care much for the truth. In fact, the truth simply gets in the way of good storytelling, and "Cocaine Bear" tends to go in a different direction. A high-octane, gory, hilariously demented direction. Yes, I am here for it!
Relying on its own idiocy, "Cocaine Bear" stars a team of dramatic actors that play up the ludicrous nature of a loosely true event. It is a nostalgic romp through the 1980s, with a pink track suited Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Matthew Rhys, and the late Ray Liotta as just some of the stars interacting with a high-as-a-kite bear. The premise is unimportant at this juncture, as the bear is coked out almost immediately when the film begins. Terror and exuberance ensue as each cast member is confronted with the wild beast.
Hikers, detectives, drug smugglers, delinquent children, park rangers, and townies all converge on the aptly named Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee River National Forest. The bear is high on cocaine for most of the film, but every time it stops to rest, somehow, another bag of cocaine is available to take a bump. As soon as it does, all hell breaks loose. Despite what park rangers and Wikipedia might say about how black bears are harmless to humans, this particular bear is high as fuck, so you best stay away because it will tear you from limb to limb. Most of the characters in "Cocaine Bear" don't heed this warning, and they suffer the consequences.
Tone is everything when it comes to dark comedies like this one, and Elizabeth Banks sets the tone off the bat with the airplane drop going horribly wrong. "It's like cocaine Christmas," one character utters, seemingly comparing "Cocaine Bear" to that of a National Geographic episode of "Natural Born Killers." However, the gore in this film is not to be believed, much to a comedic effect that is often manic in its approach. In a particularly pointed sequence where one character believes bears can't climb trees (spoiler alert: they very much can), he is attacked so viciously that the bear snorts a line of cocaine from his mangled leg. That is the type of movie you're getting here.
"Cocaine Bear" delights in its own dysfunction and unapologetically revels in it for 90 minutes straight. This is a movie that knows exactly what it is, what it's trying to do, and leans heavily on its absurdity. It might have been more entertaining if the 1980s had played a more significant role in establishing the mood, as just a few music references and costume choices set the scene in the beginning.
The computer-generated bear looks terrible, but it doesn't matter much when we're talking about a bear high on coke. Many of the jokes succeed, some scenes utterly disgust, and the third act loses momentum, but mostly "Cocaine Bear" is a quick comedy of errors joyride.
Don't take it too seriously, and you'll have a good laugh.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟1/2