October 4, 2023

Cocaine Bear review: An enjoyable ride, but lacks restraint

Cocaine Bear

The movie titled Cocaine Bear recognizes that its name and premise are its primary appeal. 

It is an action-comedy-thriller directed by Elizabeth Banks and loosely based on a real-life event from 1985 in which a black bear consumed a large amount of cocaine and died shortly after. The film imagines what might happen if a massive, unstoppable bear went on a wild and drug-fueled rampage through the forests of Georgia, weaving together a series of fantastical stories. The movie also draws inspiration from the mid-1980s era, including the vintage anti-drug public service announcements that precede it, as well as the pace and style of Spielbergian children’s adventures and slasher movies. Cocaine Bear has a casual and gruesome tone that might not have been as well-received if it were not for its name and concept.

Opening Scene

The movie doesn’t make an effort to provide an explanation for its opening scene. The audience is introduced to Andrew Thornton, portrayed by Matthew Rhys, who is apparently a real-life drug dealer. He is shown kicking bags of cocaine out of an out-of-control airplane while laughing maniacally, but the reason for his behaviour is unclear. Thornton then puts on his parachute and sunglasses, bids farewell to the empty cockpit, and falls unconscious into the sky after hitting his head. This is the only appearance of Matthew Rhys in the movie.

Elizabeth Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden strategically create an atmosphere of uncertainty by dispatching one of the prominent cast members in the opening scene. As a result, the audience is left wondering who will survive and who will not. While we might assume that Dee Dee and Henry, the two school-skipping youngsters who venture into the forest to paint waterfalls, are safe, the film keeps us on edge about their fate. Similarly, Dee Dee’s mother, a stressed-out nurse who sets out to search for her children, and two low-level criminals, Daveed and Eddie, who their boss tasks to recover missing cocaine in Chattahoochee National Forest, also face uncertain outcomes. Although they appear in danger, the film takes the time to provide detailed backstories for these characters. In one scene, for instance, Eddie, a widowed father, is depicted drowning his sorrows in a dive bar with a plate of penne.

The cast of Cocaine Bear is quite extensive, resembling something from an Altman film. However, the audience’s primary interest lies in the bear and cocaine, and the movie delivers on that front. The audience is introduced to the bear in the first scene, where it chases and tears apart a couple of hikers before getting distracted by a butterfly. From there, it’s a sequence of gruesome fights and dismembered limbs, often involving someone waving a brick of cocaine and the bear appearing seemingly out of nowhere. If you were hoping for an accurate portrayal of the effects of cocaine, this is not the movie for you. Cocaine is portrayed as another superpower, which may not be in line with what one might expect from a film made in 1985 with a more meticulous approach to the subject matter.

Most entertaining Scene

The film’s most entertaining scene involves a comedic chase with a stretcher, an open-back ambulance, a gun, and a sprinting emergency worker. It’s tempting to wish for more scenes like this in Cocaine Bear. However, the movie also finds comic relief in its various depictions of the bear. Sometimes it approaches characters like a menacing predator, while other times, it’s wildly energetic, and occasionally it collapses on top of them and falls asleep. Warden’s script isn’t intricate, but it has some memorable lines, such as “You’re safe. Bears can’t climb trees.” “Of course they can!” “Then why are you up here?” The film also creates a surprisingly atmospheric environment that can sometimes feel aimless but ultimately leaves you with the impression of having travelled somewhere by the end.

Cocaine Bear review/final thoughts

The filmmakers behind Cocaine Bear appear to have deliberately aimed to create a cult movie. This approach is usually a backward one, as cult movies typically gain their status over time rather than being intentionally created as such. They often start out as commercial failures, only to be rediscovered by audiences through chance encounters such as stumbling upon a forgotten VHS cassette or tuning into the late show. However, in today’s fast-paced, insular culture, where VHS tapes and late-night TV are a thing of the past, the concept of discovering hidden gems is becoming increasingly rare. Thus, it seems that to achieve cult status, a film must intentionally cultivate its following from the outset. In this sense, Cocaine Bear succeeds in being good enough to merit such a status. If it were any better, it might lose the ironic charm of a title like Cocaine Bear.

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