Film Review: Cocaine Bear

By Matthew Moorcroft

Solid Recommendation

  • Directed by Elizabeth Banks
  • Starring Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Ray Liotta
  • R

The only question that is going through your mind when asking yourself “should I see Cocaine Bear” is whether or not like the words “cocaine” and “bear” in the same sentence. If so, then honestly, you don’t really need this review cause you are probably interested and seeing it anyways. If not, then you also don’t need this review cause it’s absolutely not going to up your alley.

Cocaine Bear is a hard movie to review cause it’s so direct and upfront on what exactly it is that it’s hard to ultimately talk about. The loosely inspired off a true story tale – which is mostly just an interpretation of events that could have transpired in 1985 after a black bear ate a ton of dropped cocaine – is an exercise in ridiculous nonsense for the sake of it; an easy pitch to audiences and executives in the day and age of social media. There is a level of cynicism you could have about the whole thing because of that, seeing it as nothing more then an attempt from a studio to capitalize on some quick viral success.

And while Cocaine Bear isn’t high art – duh – it would be, at least to me, remiss to dismiss the genuinely good stuff at the center here. Elizabeth Banks, as it turns out, has a knack for B-movie thrills, and she shoots the hell out of this with some really dynamic camera work and great usage of tension. A couple of jump scares here and there aren’t super effective but they set a tone for sure, and none of them are fakeouts which helps keep things moving. And once that bear starts going hog wild, the movie is damn near perfect, reaching a crescendo when a titular ambulance scene comes in and steals the whole movie.

Said bear itself is really the star of the show (brought to life by consistently great VFX on the part of Weta Digital), so much so that the movie actually somewhat loses steam when it’s not involved. Some characters fare better then others, like O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich’s comradery as members of a cartel or Margo Martindale’s inspired turn as a park ranger, but some like Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s detective get very little to do outside of play a one-note character who mostly serves as a vehicle for one kind of joke. The film’s sheer amount of plotlines and characters gets a tad too all over the place for it’s own good, though none of them are bad and most of them have one or two memorable moments to justify their inclusion. The first act of the film is particularly a little rough as it jumps around from scene to scene, trying to get all of the cast into the forest as quickly as possible so the craziness can start.

Cocaine Bear isn’t exactly going to wow you in any way – in fact it’s one of those movies that’s far more enjoyable in the moment then if you think about it for more then a couple of minutes – but it’s a blast of a time that manages to keep your attention and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Worth watching with a crowd if you get the chance, and it’s success could increase the number of mid budget films getting theatrical releases which would always be great. Enjoyable nonsense.

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