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Cocaine Bear

According to the old adage, you are never supposed to judge a book by its cover. Keeping within that line of thinking, you’re probably not supposed to judge a movie based on its title, either. But, when I see a major motion picture called COCAINE BEAR, it’s difficult not to let curiosity take over. In an era when sequels, reboots, and franchises dominate the cinematic landscape, it’s refreshing when something a little different finds a way to carve a space of its own.   

Directed by Elizabeth Banks, COCAINE BEAR is set in the mid-80’s and is the wild tale of a black bear who ingests a ton of cocaine, develops a hankering for the drug, and goes on a violent rampage against anyone who stands in the way of his buzz. Credit should be bestowed to Banks (whose starring vehicle SLITHER was equally audacious back in 2006) for taking on a project as absurd as this one, and she does a fantastic job of capturing the tone needed to make this work. It has all the hallmarks of an 80’s creature-feature, including a phenomenal soundtrack, characters who make terrible decisions, and a boatload of blood and gore.  

Sari (Keri Russell) is a nurse and a single-mom a middle schooler named Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince.) While Dee Dee wants to go paint a waterfall at the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest on the weekend, Sari wants them to spend the weekend in Nashville with her new boyfriend. Bummed that she can’t paint the falls with her mom, Dee Dee ditches school with her pal Henry (Christian Convery) in order to head out into the wilderness. When they arrive at the park, they find a couple of bricks of cocaine strewn in the bushes, and after trying a big ol’ spoonful, are accosted by the titular character who already had one solid mauling under his pelt. Meanwhile, drug dealer Syd (Ray Liotta) is on the hook with the cartel for the missing coke. It was supposed to be delivered on his behalf, but instead, it ended up falling out of an airplane (along with the courier who was transporting it) and is now missing in action. He sends his son Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and associate Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to track it down and retrieve it.

If this sounds like a lot of plotlines for a movie called COCAINE BEAR, you should probably know that I haven’t even gotten to the part about the love-struck park ranger (an amazing-as-always Margo Martindale), and a dog-adoring detective (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) Like most of the 80’s flicks that served as the inspiration here, characters are introduced and plots are thinly devised so there will be an excuse for the creature to have plenty of people to devour along the way. That is certainly what is happening here, but the cast has enough tongue-in-cheek fun with the content that COCAINE BEAR treads that fine line between hilarious and hokey. Liotta, who tragically passed away during the course of filming, is particularly good as the gruff, seething, no-nonsense heavy. It’s the type of roll that he had perfected over the past couple of decades and he puts it to great use here. His was perhaps the one straight-faced performance in the whole production, but in his capable hands, it didn’t seem out of place.

Like most of its kind, COCAINE BEAR is not for the squeamish, but the gore is much more humorous than horrifying. Given the soundtrack, performances, and script, it is obvious from the beginning (and, let’s be honest, the title) that the film is aiming for gross-out comedy over full-blown terror, and this is likely what makes it work. It has generated a great deal of word-of-mouth success and shows that even though established entities are what is currently driving the market in Hollywood, there is still an audience for original material. Sure, sometimes people want to see Spidey sling his way across the screen, but quite obviously, they are also eager to watch a wild animal ingest a ton of drugs and hilariously rage her way through the forest while the body count continuously rises.


RUN TIME: 1h 35min
GENRE: Comedy, Thriller
STARRING:  Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
DIRECTOR: Elizabeth Banks
Writers:  Jimmy Warden 

Brian Miller