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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Cocaine Bear: Review

Cocaine Bear Synopsis: An oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists, and teens converge on a Georgia forest where a massive black bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine.

Madness ensues when a black bear discovers an ample array of cocaine from a drug run gone wrong in Cocaine Bear. Loosely based on a so ridiculous it must be true phenomenon, Bear boasts an instantly alluring premise that has already drawn significant attention in the Hollywood zeitgeist. Who wouldn’t want to see a bear go berserk during a cocaine-fueled crusade against a group of yuppies?

Director Elizabeth Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden try to deliver that cinematic promise, but any potential for campy entertainment is noticeably lost in translation. To put it bluntly, Cocaine Bear overdoses from its tedious one-joke approach to an ingenious concept.

The wayward experience stumbles from jump street. I have always been a fan of Banks as an actress and behind-the-camera creative. The Pitch Perfect trilogy offered refreshing comedic sparks before the series eventually ran out of steam, while Banks’ maligned Charlie’s Angeles reboot was a genuine blockbuster pleasure due to its clever, feminist-driven voice. With Cocaine Bear, Banks is entirely out of her element in an awkward genre hodgepodge that never defines an engaging creative pulse.

Banks primarily plays her narrative as a farce – a sensible choice on paper given the premise’s admittedly outlandish qualities. In execution, her vision struggles to connect with any of its B-movie aspirations. The movie embraces a flat, sitcom-esque visual presentation that reduces the concept into a corny series of redundant gags. Awkward stylistic flourishes, like jarring thought bubble edits, often land dead on arrival.

When Cocaine Bear eventually tries to embrace the midnight madness of its horror pastiche, the film’s technical shortcomings are more evident. Not even the welcomed inclusion of gory practical effects can mask the ineffective framing choices and tension-free slayings that falter in their pursuit of providing amusement and exhilaration. Banks listlessly steers these moments forward without defining an understanding of what makes extravagant violence compelling to watch. I was left wishing the movie did more to lean into the inherent ridiculousness of its premise.

Warden’s screenplay is equally unfulfilling. The emerging screenwriter, whose only other credit to date is the middling The Babysitter: Killer Queen, deserves praise for devising a fruitful concept. Twisting an anomalous slice of history into a rowdy genre romp shows potential, yet Warden never takes full advantage of that innate promise. Far too often, Cocaine Bear‘s attempts at humor favor self-satisfied simplicity. Repetitive situations where characters merely shout, “the bear is doing cocaine,” do not constitute actual jokes. The times when Warden tires stretching outside those rigid confines feel just as laborious, with the screenwriter often confusing blunt vulgarities as a substitute for clever one-liners.

In terms of narrative, Cocaine Bear is stuck in an uninteresting morass. The ensemble approach throws several quirky characters at the screen, but they all feel like one-note caricatures under Warden’s guidance. This shortcoming drastically wastes the talents of Bear’s accomplished cast. The film showcases a variety of stalwart character actors (Keri Russell, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, and the late Ray Liotta) and vibrant emerging stars (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, and Brooklynn Pierce). Unfortunately, none of them receive the opportunity to leave a lasting impression in their fleeting roles.

Perhaps what’s more telling than my complaints was the lingering silence radiating throughout the packed opening night showing I attended. Everyone in the audience was jazzed to indulge in a campy crowd-pleaser, yet the deafening lack of response resonated like tumbleweeds shuffling down the theater aisles.

The best praise I can heap on Cocaine Bear is that it’s short and sweet, clocking in with a self-aware 95-minute runtime. However, what’s packed inside that truncated window rarely inspires much enjoyment.

Cocaine Bear is now playing in theaters.


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