The year is 1985, no mobile phones, no internet and thankfully no social media. It is a happier time when it was perfectly safe to ditch school and go hiking through the local wilderness on a beautiful sunny day. That is unless a plane carrying a huge amount of the Peruvian marching powder flew overhead the night before dropping its cargo for anyone to find.
Loosely based on the true story of a black bear in Tennessee who died after finding some of the dumped cocaine, Cocaine Bear looks at the alternative world where the ingested coke didn’t kill the bear but turned it into a 170 kg tweaked out killer.
Beginning with an opening that sets the tone for the film we join smuggler Andrew C Thornton dumping duffle bags full of product out the rear door of his doomed plane over the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest before following his cargo in an attempt to collect at a later date. After some factual information on screen ripped straight from Wikipedia advising us what to do if ever faced with a Black Bear we jump straight into the beautiful setting with two European hikers making their way to a picturesque lookout. Enjoying their moment in nature until spotting a bear close by acting a little strange. This is the beginning of a 90 minute ride that will have you laughing and shaking your head in equal amounts.
There are two main intertwining stories in Cocaine Bear. On one side we have drug Kingpin Syd (Ray Liotta in his last outing) who tasks his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and his friend Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr) to travel to the forest and collect the dumped cargo. Hot on their heels is police officer (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who has a strange relationship with his new adopted pooch.
Elsewhere we have quintessential 80s mum Sari (Keri Russel) , her pre-teen daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and her best friend Henry (Christian Convery). After being denied a day out with her mother to paint at the falls (yes we all did weird stuff like that back then) in favour of a weekend away with mums new boyfriend, Dee Dee convinces Henry to ditch school and do the trek on their own. No sooner do they step into the park then they find some of the discarded drugs before quickly coming face to face with you guessed it, a bear looking for its next high.
Cocaine Bear is visually fantastic and shot in a way that had me remembering those corny 80s & 90s action / horror movies. The true star here though is the bear. Director Elizabeth Banks uses it to create a sense of malice in its unwavering pursuit of more nose candy. You are left questioning where and how the bear will turn up next and what exactly will it get up to on screen and when it does you are greeted with some truly memorable death scenes and moments that had my sides hurting with laughter.
Unfortunately all the good that Cocaine Bear does early on in its setup all comes undone in the final act as the two stories intertwine and there is just too much going on. A splattering of characters are all fighting for screen time with some brilliant actors just not given the chance to open up. Both stories are good in their own right but poor timing and some strange script choices have both feeling somewhat hollow. Ultimately it all comes down to too many little stories trying to be told and not all fitting into the 95 min run time.
Does this hinder the experience though? Only slightly. There are some brilliant moments from young Convery who all but steals the show. His innocence and comedic timing are given full range to run and thankfully he gets as much screen time as he does. Ranger Liz (brilliantly portrayed by Margo Martindale) demands attention whenever she is on screen. Portrayed as the bumbling flirtatious Park Ranger, I found myself laughing hardest at some of her moments.
If I am to be honest, to get the full experience out of Cocaine Bear you need to be in the mood and the mindset for it. It’s a corny, gore filled ride that really makes no sense in the realm of reality and sometimes that is ok. I loved it and it was exactly what I needed in the current climate where movies are either way to real and dramatic or a big budget action production. Go in with that in mind, switch off your brain and just have what most would probably think is an inappropriate laugh.