“Cocaine Bear” is as cheerfully silly and gory as you can expect from its very title. Outrageously developed from one amusing real-life incident, the movie goes all the way for gore and absurdity, and the resulting shocks and laughs are almost enough to carry its one-joke promise to the end. I wish it had more flesh and bones to be chewed by its titular bear figure in terms of story and characters. but I will not deny that I was often amused even while recognizing its noticeable weak points.
I must tell you that that real-life incident is surely preposterous but far less dramatic than what is depicted in the film. In 1985, a drug smuggler threw away loads of cocaine packages from his airplane before jumping from the airplane in the middle of a flight over Knoxville, Tennessee, but unfortunately, he fell to his death due to a little but fatal problem. Not long after that, a certain bear in a nearby forest region happened to ingest a considerable amount of cocaine from one of those discarded cocaine packages, and this bear was eventually found dead because of its overdose (It was subsequently stuffed and displayed at a mall in Kentucky, by the way).
The screenplay by Jimmy Warden goes much further from this utterly ridiculous real-life incident. In the movie, that bear in question becomes not only quite high but also very, very, very violent after ingesting lots of cocaine, and it goes without saying that its consequent brutal rampage along the story leads to lots of shock and awe for us. During its first scene in the film, a European couple unluckily come across the bear in the forest, and it surely gives them something they will never forget during the rest of their remaining life.
After that, we are introduced to a bunch of characters who may all be on the target list of our bear. There is a criminal organization boss who must retrieve those cocaine packages as soon as possible, and this figure, played by late Ray Liotta (The movie is dedicated to his memory), instructs one of his underlings to go to the forest along with his rather unenthusiastic son, who has been quite depressed to lose his loving wife recently. When the body of that pilot is found, a local detective instantly senses a chance to catch that criminal organization boss, and he quickly embarks on searching for anything to lead him to his longtime adversary.
Meanwhile, we are also introduced to two local kids who decide to skip their school just because they want to have a little special time together in the forest. No, their plan does not involve with sex at all, but they are old enough to know what they accidentally come across in the forest, and you will surely get some amusement as they “innocently” talk and discuss about what they are going to do with what they have just found.
It does not take much for these two kids to realize that they are in a very serious danger, and they certainly get a fair share of terror just like many other characters in the story. In case of a local nurse who is incidentally the single mother of one of these two kids, she simply wants to know where the hell the kids are right now, but, along with two other unfortunate supporting characters, she soon finds herself terrorized by the sudden appearance of the bear, who is eager to ingest cocaine more and more despite being quite high and violent.
Although it is essentially your average CGI animal figure, the bear, who is incidentally nicknamed “Cokey the Bear” by Boston Globe movie critic Odie Henderson, is indubitably the most fun character in the film, and director Elizabeth Banks, who recently tickled us a lot as accompanied by a dude wearing a big bear suit at the Academy Awards ceremony, and her crew have lots of crazy and bloody fun with this big furry animal figure. While the movie comes to lose some of its comic momentum later in the story, it is perked up whenever the bear appears on the screen, and our bear character also turns out to have a little wacky surprise involved with its gender.
I must point out that the human characters in the story are less substantial in comparison, though a number of recognizable performers in the film do try as much as they can do for filling their cardboard roles. While Keri Russell is the most sympathetic one in the bunch (Matthew Rhys, her co-star in the acclaimed TV drama series “The Americans”, briefly appears in the film, by the way), O’Shea Jackson and Alden Ehrenreich play their criminal characters straight even during their most outrageous moment in the movie, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Margo Martindale are reliable as usual, though they are rather under-utilized in my inconsequential opinion. In case of Brooklyn Prince, a young performer who was utterly unforgettable in Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” (2017), she demonstrates here that she grows up a lot besides being on the road to a promising adult acting career, and I admire how willing she is to go for some naughty laugh for us.
In conclusion, “Cocaine Bear” is not as hilarious as I expected when I watched its trailer a few months ago, but it reminded me of what critic Pauline Kael once said: “The movies are so rarely great art, that if we can’t appreciate great trash, there is little reason for us to go.” Yes, “Cocaine Bear” is not even a great trash, but it is a fairly solid one at least, and I think you will be entertained more than me if you just want to spend your remaining free time.