Let’s just get this out of the way: Cocaine Bear the movie is not as good as Cocaine Bear the trailer. Certainly, the film is primarily about bears (yes, there’s more than one) and a hell of a lot of cocaine, as promised by the high-octane, gunning-to-be-a-cult-classic trailer.
Characters do also talk a lot about bears and cocaine, saying things like “An apex predator high on cocaine”, with dopey, wide-eyed astonishment in a way that recalls Jonah Hill in the Superbad/Knocked Up era. Only, imagine Hill in an action film about bears and cocaine.
But in between all the juicy bits is a plot that sags. Based on a true story, in which a bear ingested a large amount of cocaine in a Georgia forest and died, Cocaine Bear does well to avoid any serious commentary on the drugs trade and instead imagines what a bear on cocaine might actually do (stare blissfully at butterflies; go on a murderous rampage; do absolutely anything for its next hit). It ends up feeling a little vacuous.
We open with a drugs smuggler (Matthew Rhys) in a plane manically chucking red duffel bags stuffed with cocaine (minus the large amount up his nose) onto the mountains. It’s 1985 and disco is in the air and this guy’s bloodstream. Sadly, he knocks himself out trying to parachute down, leaving his handlers and the police with a dead body and a whole lot of missing cocaine.
There are myriad people who might find it: two children skipping school (an amusing Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery, assuring each other that the done thing is to gobble a tablespoon’s worth of the white stuff); a ranger (Margo Martindale) and her beau (Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson); a worried mother (Keri Russell, The Americans); a dogged cop; drug smugglers (including the late Ray Liotta, in his last role); some unsuspecting paramedics; and a doomed trio of local wastrels.
It’s a stellar cast and a well-considered ensemble of characters that should and could work well in different circumstances. Yet, here they are, like a bad horror movie, just filler, endlessly waiting, like us, for the next bear scare.
Director Elizabeth Banks is well-versed in stoner comedy of the mid-Noughties and she has a great sense of pace and comic timing. She knows how to set up characters for the fall (the lipstick-wearing, gun-toting ranger in particular) and to let jokes linger in the air. She riffs off the 80s clothes and music Stranger Things-style, and offsets some of the violence with fun, gross-out intestinal gore.
But this is mostly just a funny concept – a bear on blow?? Ha! – with lots of wandering around in between. Was it even possible for it to live up to its premise? I’m not sure.
It is, in the end, like most humans high on cocaine, full of enthusiasm and just a bit boring.