“Cocaine Bear” has a “Snakes on a Plane” problem that never goes away.
That 2006 romp rocked the zeitgeist for months. And then we saw the film itself, a mediocrity given a pulse by Samuel L. Jackson’s ‘tude.
The gimmick couldn’t support an actual movie.
“Cocaine Bear,” inspired by true events, seemed like a superior bet. Comedy! Action! A coked-out bear on the loose!
What could go wrong? Plenty, and it’s a reminder that even the best Hollywood pitches demand a follow through.
“Cocaine Bear” opens with a wink and a nod. We get a Wikipedia quote about bears, followed up by an ’80s-era “Just Say No” drug campaign complete with former First Lady Nancy Reagan.
The tone is pithy and self-aware, and it clicks. So does the setup, assembling both innocents and rogues who run into the titular bear.
The great Margo Martindale is a tough-talking forest ranger looking to flirt with a visiting animal expert (a barely recognizable Jesse Tyler Ferguson of “Modern Family” fame). Their meeting is interrupted by runaway pre-teens, a determined cop and drug traffickers looking for cocaine packages dropped from the sky by a doomed drug runner.
A big, black bear gets to the lost cocaine first, and the film’s copious CGI shows what happens when a beast of that size gets too high, too fast.
[The actual bear the film is based on died after snorting too much product]
The coked-out bear attacks anything within its line of sight, meaning “Cocaine Bear” spills plenty of blood. Limbs fly, characters shriek their final breaths and we get to see every last drop of the red stuff.
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Director Elizabeth Banks (“Charlie’s Angels,” “Pitch Perfect 2”) still keeps the tone as light as possible given the grisly bits.
So far, so engaging. It’s a B-movie with mediocre dialogue, but it’s delivering on its pop culture potential.
More or less.
The bear’s killing spree requires victims, though, and here’s where “Cocaine Bear” falls down on the job. The ensemble cast is filled with “characters,” larger-than-life types meant to spike the cinematic punch.
Except none are up to the challenge.
The screenwriter behind #CocaineBear is still floored that the film is about to be released: “I didn’t think that any respectable studio would make a movie called ‘Cocaine Bear’ and keep all the sh – that I had written.” https://t.co/cPT8RJ0PwI
— Variety (@Variety) February 22, 2023
Alden Ehrenreich couldn’t make us forget Harrison Ford in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and he’s equally overwhelmed playing a soft-hearted criminal here. His sobbing character doesn’t generate a single laugh, and he’s not alone.
Old pros like Keri Russell, wasted as the pre-teen’s mom, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as the determined detective, class up the joint as best as they can. It’s Mission: Impossible, and there’s no Tom Cruise around to save the day.
The first-act laughter dries up, and we’re left with bland characters moving about the forest while we wait for the next bear attack. Even Ray Liotta, in what may be his last screen performance, can’t make his drug lord worth our attention.
The only actor to emerge unscathed is O’Shea Jackson, Jr., cast as a drug runner who puts survival over profits.
The last thing a film like “Cocaine Bear” should be is dull, but the screenplay delivers just that. The film’s goofy edge fades, and we’re left with a generic assortment of heroes, villains and folks who could fall in either camp.
Where’s the edge, the campy excitement we were promised?
A movie like “Cocaine Bear” should go out on a high … note. Instead, the interminable third act makes us forget how much fun this “Bear” was supposed to be in the first place.
HiT or Miss: “Cocaine Bear” briefly lives up to the pre-release buzz before succumbing to generic, even bland, storytelling beats.
I could’ve done without the mom and kids storyline. I agree, some characters should have been more wacky. Still, I had a blast at the theaters, and some pretty good laughs!