Review | ‘Cocaine Bear’: Apex predator on drugs goes berserk

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By Amit


(1.5 stars)

“Cocaine Bear” isn’t so much a movie as an idea — a synopsis, an elevator pitch, a thumbnail description: bear + cocaine — that has somehow metastasized into the collection of footage that arrives in theaters this week. It’s the length of a feature film. You have to buy tickets to see it. It was directed by Elizabeth Banks (“Charlie’s Angels”). And it stars Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Brooklynn Prince, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, all of whom are actual actors. But it isn’t really a movie.

Or at least it doesn’t feel like one.

Loosely (very loosely) based on news reports of a black bear whose skeletal remains were discovered in 1985 by narcotics investigators in rural Georgia, along with 40 torn-open packets of cocaine thought to have been dropped from an airplane by a smuggler who died before he was able to retrieve them, the film is a wild extrapolation — part low-budget horror film, part five-minute comedy sketch padded out to the length of a Disneynature documentary — about what might have happened between the bear’s ingestion of the drugs and its death. Whenever the rampaging CGI critter, created by Weta FX, the acclaimed visual effects studio behind the Lord of the Rings and Avatar franchises, is on screen, the movie comes vividly, bizarrely alive. It’s funny, demented and hyperviolent, in a goofy, half-baked way that might be best appreciated in an altered state. During the lulls in which characters are talking (which happens with surprising frequency considering the film’s title), “Cocaine Bear” goes into snoring hibernation.

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That’s okay, because you won’t miss much, despite a plot that sounds complicated on paper. After a brief prologue setting up the premise, several parties converge on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, where they encounter a drug-addled bear. There’s the Georgia nurse (Russell) in search of her hooky-playing daughter (Prince); the Tennessee detective (Whitlock Jr.) and several Missouri criminals (Jackson, Ehrenreich and Liotta), all of whom are looking for the drugs; as well as the park ranger and her friend (Martindale and Ferguson). Other miscellaneous characters pop up here and there as bear fodder, including paramedics responding to attacks and teenage punks, most of whom die gruesome deaths.

The entirety of the film’s budget seems to have been diverted from the screenplay into bear effects, which are admittedly impressive. Ferguson’s wig and hairbrush mustache, on the other hand, appear to have been trimmed with garden shears by a distracted makeup artist who was playing Wordle on her phone. Is there something inherently funny about the 1980s? The filmmakers seem to think so, from Russell’s hot-pink jumpsuit to the cheesy needle drops, including the 1983 song “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” by Melle Mel, which is prominently featured.

And they may be right. But there’s something funnier about a bear on cocaine. It isn’t much, and it’s hardly enough to keep this contrivance, whatever you want to call it, alive for an hour and half. If you’ve seen the viral trailer — heck, if you’ve read the title — you’ve already gotten the joke.

R. At area theaters. Contains bloody violence, gore, drugs and crude language throughout. 95 minutes.

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