REVIEW — “Cocaine Bear”
With the comedic eye of director Elizabeth Banks and the pedigree of producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Cocaine Bear’s potential for off-the-wall comedy is sky high. However, the dark comedy is loaded with half-baked gags instead of Lord Miller’s signature rapid fire jokes.
After a kickass opening cued to Starship’s “Jane” that sees The Americans’ Matthew Rhys karate chop bricks of cocaine out of a small engine plane over the Smoky Mountains, Cocaine Bear devolves into a mixed bag of oddball characters and their brutal deaths.
While the fully-CGI bear is top-notch impressive, it feels like they really could’ve done more with the premise — which is inspired by the 1985 true story of a drug runner’s plane crash, missing cocaine, and the black bear that really ate it. This film takes a fictional look at what happened in the hours after the bear consumed the nose candy.
In his final film role, the great Ray Liotta stars as Syd, a ruthless drug lord who is eager to retrieve his missing shipment of coke before the law or the bear sniff it out. He sends his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and henchman Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) on an errand into the north Georgia forest where the packages were dropped. While there, they come across a group of cops, rangers, tourists, and tweens that wandered into the 500- pound apex predator’s coke-fueled rampage.
Among them are single mom Sara (Keri Russell), who is on the hunt for her missing daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend Henry (Christian Convery-Jennings) when she crosses paths with Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) and Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Stand-outs include Ferguson, Jackson, Jr., Convery-Jennings, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as an in-over-his-head detective on their trail. The film, written by Jimmy Warden, also stars Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Hoekstra, and Aaron Holliday.
Four scenes, in particular, stand out as much for their shocking kills as they do for their over-the-top hilarity: the tree scene, the cabin scene, the gazebo scene, and the ambulance scene. However, with the action cutting back and forth between the large ensemble of characters, any built-up tension or momentum is also swiftly killed.
While not 100% pure comedy gold, Cocaine Bear does not blow. The film is laced with enough snort-inducing laughs to justify its wild existence. 3/5
Rated R for bloody violence and gore, drug content and language throughout (~60 F-bombs), Cocaine Bear opens in theaters on Friday, February 24, 2023.