Cocaine Bear, a new movie directed by actress and filmmaker Elizabeth Banks, is based on a premise filled with absurdity, a lack of logic, and the kind of silly, second-tier action that you’ll only see in a certain type of direct-to-video film. However, in this case it’s all completely deliberate; this isn’t exactly a small budget film, and has the might of Universal Pictures’ backing. Loosely based on a real-life incident that took place in 1985, Cocaine Bear is a 95-minute gore-fest that has all the makings of a cult classic, and here’s my spoiler-free review.
Now, while I do say spoiler-free, there really isn’t much to spoil here. The crux of the plot of Cocaine Bear is exactly what you’d expect from reading the preposterous but rather accurate title — an American black bear ingests millions of dollars worth of cocaine, and then goes on the kind of drug-fuelled rampage that one can only imagine from a wild bear.
The movie is silly, gory, and completely ridiculous in equal parts, with plenty of laughs and gags tossed in to underline the campy and corny nature of the movie. Produced on a budget of around $35 million — most of which went into animating the drug-fuelled bear with CGI as per a report by Variety — Cocaine Bear relies on a simple setting, a relatively low-budget ensemble cast, and ridiculously over-the-top action and gore to set the tone.
As mentioned, Cocaine Bear is based on a real-life incident which took place in 1985, but the film takes significant creative liberties beyond what actually happened. In the actual incident, a drug smuggler dropped millions of dollars worth of cocaine out of the light aircraft he was piloting, which fell into the North Georgia wilderness.
An American black bear is said to have found and consumed a large quantity of cocaine, and was found dead by authorities. No casualties or attacks by this bear on humans were reported, unlike the fictional premise of the rest of the movie. You now know that reality isn’t as absurd as fiction, at least in this case.
The ensemble cast, which features Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and the late Ray Liotta in prominent roles, does exactly what it needs to do — serve as fodder for the drugged and chaotic bear. That said, their own motivations and back-stories do come into play, but the movie thankfully doesn’t spend too much time on explaining all of this.
The notable sets of characters do slot into a handful of sensible categories though; a couple of lost kids being searched for by a mother, drug smugglers hoping to recover the drugs from the forest, law enforcement authorities pursuing the drug smugglers, and miscellaneous characters who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Interestingly, the movie is also wildly unpredictable as you have no idea who is going to die next, with plenty of innocent bystanders going down in gory (but snigger-worthy) ways.
This brings me to the lead character of the film — the titular Cocaine Bear itself. The product of some impressive CGI and nicely-executed action sequences, the coked-up American black bear naturally behaves in a manner completely unexpected and unlike the natural instincts and behaviour of the species. The bear is fast, stealthy, and with heightened abilities, obsessed with only one thing — finding more cocaine to fuel its addiction.
This is what often saves the more sensible characters, and dooms the unfortunate victims. A simple sniff of cocaine infuses energy and new aggression into the bear, and the premise of the story means there’s plenty of the drug just lying around, waiting to be found.
Make no mistake, Cocaine Bear is completely ridiculous. However, it never pretends to be anything but that. It’s a silly, unrealistic comedy-horror that doesn’t bore you or run too long, and is entirely worth your time. Don’t think about it too much, just go watch it.
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