Being the season of summery partying complete at clubs lined with snow, there’s no better time for the drug-affected peregrination of a bent-as-Bud-Fox-bear-doing-voluntary-surgery-on-humans-in-the-woods on the big screen. Which, if Universal’s clever marketing plan and the early buzz pays off, will be exactly what Feburarians will be doing this weekend.
Directed with fervour by Pitch Perfect 3 victim Elizabeth Banks, this high-concept, light entertainment yarn best reps what might happen if someone laid the audio track for TV’s ‘80s love letter ‘’Stranger Things’’ over Steve Miner’s killer croc movie Lake Placid or David Ellis’s cult fave Snakes on a Plane. Cocaine Bear is the kind of clever, brain-off audience pleaser that’ll spur as many claps as it will put bands like Jefferson Starship and Slim Whitman back on the charts.
Based on real events but essentially fiction from about the 8-minute mark onwards, Cocaine Bear plots what happens when a bear gets into a bag of cocaine that was dropped from a smuggler’s plane. The smuggler – played by Matthew Rhys of “The Americans” here – was a real chap, and the bear did get into the coke.
That’s where Hollywood comes in : now, the bear survives after devouring a large amount of the substance (in real life the bear was found dead after getting into it) and consequently goes on a murderous rampage on a national park. Potential victims include a single mother (Keri Russell), her daughter (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend (Christian Convery), the park ranger (Margo Martindale), a detective (Isiah Whitlock Jr), and two hired goons (O’Shea Jackson Jr and Alden Ehrenreich) in search of the missing cocaine. The late Ray Liotta, in what would be his final on screen performance (he passed a week after completing ADR on the film), plays the trafficker who has assigned his men the task of locating the stash.
There’s unarguably no real meat, to speak for, for the assemblage of humans to gnaw into anyway but the scene-stealer of the piece is unarguably the effects department behind the Bart-sized coke addict. Whenever the big girl is on screen, whether it be sniffing or smashing, it’s a hoot to watch.
The film does have its weaker moments, usually those that don’t feature the bear, of course, and it does occasionally float awkwardly between family-friendly Shawn Levy-style comedy and George A.Romero territory. Yet those who’ve come for what they’re promised – a silly comedy-thriller about a bear going all Terminator on anyone that gets in her way of another hit of ‘the good stuff’ – won’t be nit-picking Jay Sherman-style in their seats, because the film delivers on the promise.
Banks has baked a very entertaining and rather ingenious piece that ostensibly only The White House’s National Drug Control Council will find un-bearable.