Starring: Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Brooklynn Prince, Christian Convery, and Margo Martindale
Director: Elizabeth Banks
When I initially heard about Cocaine Bear, my first thought was “why?” After seeing it, I continue to ask the same question. This is a frustrating film that lacks both laughs and structure, and while it’s not without its moments, the movie manages about 15 minutes of entertainment throughout its 95-minute runtime. As for the other 80 minutes? They are wasted establishing one-note characters when everyone knows we all came for some bear carnage (which we don’t really get that much of). Cocaine Bear is a far cry from the true story, yet it fails to commit fully to the ridiculousness of a parody. Why?
Cocaine Bear, while fun in concept, is an unsalvageable film. From subpar acting to lackluster directing, the end result is a funny short story stretched out over 95 agonizing minutes. Neither of the two plotlines have enough meat to last the entire film, and somehow, both combined can't stretch to create a compelling enough narrative when the bear is off screen. While the bear itself warrants laughs during its blow-fueled quest for more cocaine, the human element is what holds the story back from being anything worthwhile. At best, this is a Friday night movie with friends after multiple drinks.
Cocaine Bear surprisingly does not blow. It’s a ridiculous B-level horror comedy that knows exactly what it is while not taking itself too seriously. The trailer promised a coked-up bear killing people, and that's exactly what you get on the back of a dumb fun cast. Still, it never gets as gutsy as it tries to be, possibly due to director Elizabeth Banks maybe biting off more than she could chew. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no masterpiece by any means. It’s clunky and has a weak script, but in reality, you can’t ask for more from a movie titled Cocaine Bear. It’s bonkers!
I never expected a movie called Cocaine Bear to be so lethargic and absent in wacky fun. One ambulance chase aside, it’s just very ho-hum - never funny enough to be comedy, never scary enough to be horror. It also fails to fully lean into its own campiness, and the 80s-ness of it is reduced to a few songs and a Members Only jacket. It’s not unwatchable, but like Snakes on a Plane, it’s another internet-adored premise undone by a lack of conviction in its own bonkersness. The gaggle of young teens in my screening gave it a rousing standing ovation though, so there is that.
Give me 90 minutes of a black bear messing people up while high on cocaine, and I’m gonna enjoy myself. Give me 20 minutes of that same bear surrounded by 70 minutes of people saying words while doing movements, then you’ve got Cocaine Bear. Somehow, director Elizabeth Banks took those two words and delivered a boring movie with cardboard characters that fail to deliver on its schlocky conceit. Banks captures the bear’s drug-fueled ferocity, but without any humor to build on its absurdity, you’re left pity-chuckling at an awkward comedy sketch stretched way past its limits.
I get it’s a movie called Cocaine Bear, so I wasn’t expecting anything more than a stupid fun movie. Whenever the titular bear is on screen, it’s total mayhem and a blast. The bear rips people apart in a hyper-violent fashion that satisfies the gore-hungry weirdo in me. However, it’s everything in between where the fun stops because all the human characters are uninteresting. Again, I wasn’t expecting the most layered characters, but they could have at least made them funny and entertaining. Sadly, they were neither, creating a movie that doesn’t live up to what it could have been.
As Elizabeth Banks’ movies go, Cocaine Bear is by far the craziest, not only given the premise, but also in all the material audiences bear witness to in watching it. Severed limbs, wild deaths, and in the middle of it all, a black bear doing cocaine. The idea is there, and there are certainly moments of mayhem, fun, and comedy, but the film’s structure is too unwieldy to consider it a genuine success overall. While Margo Martindale and Alden Ehrenreich steal some moments, this is Cokey’s (the bear) show, which makes it a shame that she’s not on screen quite enough.