“Keep It Simple” is great advice for everybody, including Cocaine Bears, and their filmmakers.
Unfortunately, for everyone wanting to see ‘Cocaine Bear’ and Director Elizabeth Banks herself, she didn’t heed that age old advice. Instead, Banks put everything, including a Maltese dog just trying to find a home, into the movie.
Hint: if the movie is called ‘Cocaine Bear’, you should PROBABLY stick to the Cocaine Bear!
The Plot — Cocaine Bear
It’s 1985! Which of course means, there are Drug Smugglers everywhere! One particular Cocaine Smuggler’s plane catches fire. He’s got to dump his load before the plane crashes, so it can still be snorted by stock brokers and spoiled actors everywhere!
Drug Lord Syd’s not sweating it, yet… He just wants to get his product back, and he happens to have a lead.
Syd, played by the late, great Ray Liotta, sends his top man, Daveed, into the forests of Kentucky to get his cocaine back. Daveed, played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr., and Syd’s son, Eddie, played by Solo: A Star Wars Story’s Alden Ehrenreich, need to find the packages of coke before they fall into the hands, or paws, of someone else.
Sure enough, a CGI Bear soon finds the Cocaine! The normally passive Black Bear quickly gets hopped upon the cocaine, and goes on a rampage.
A German couple hiking through the forest are first to fall. Drugged out hooligans, a lonely Park Ranger, and a pair of EMTs soon find themselves the next victims of our Cocaine Bear. Even as a single Mom searches for her daughter and a DEA officer closes in, Cocaine Bear ingests more and more Coke.
The Good — Cocaine Bear
The CGI Bear High On Cocaine
This shocks the heck out of me, but the CGI Cocaine Bear highlights the best part of the movie.
I’m not a fan of CGI, especially BAD CGI. So, the fact that I”m complimenting the CGI at all shows how impressive the Cocaine Bear character is.
That’s not to say the CGI Bear looks realistic, or even good. But, the character jumps off the screen as a fun and scary force of drug-fueled nature.
The animation looks crude, and Cocaine Bear herself doesn’t seem to follow any of the laws of physics. In fact the crudeness of the animation, and non-photo-realistic quality of the images actually adds to the B-movie, purposefully cheesy aesthetic.
But, the brutal kills are quick and bloody, and a ton of fun when dealing with the stupidest collection of characters I’ve seen on the big screen in a few years.
Ray Liotta passed away last fall, meaning there are only a few more examples of his acting work that haven’t been seen yet. Fortunately, one of those works has Ray Liotta going back to the well one last time, as a cocaine fueled drug lord getting back his product.
Syd, as played by Ray Liotta, brings gravitas to the role that’s surprisingly grounded and not as comic bookish as you might expect.
Liotta doesn’t play Syd as an 80’s stereotype for drug kingpins. Yes, Syd is in a brutally difficult business, but he’s also a Dad trying to get his son back on track. And, he’s not a drug lord who wants to leave a string of dead bodies if he doesn’t have to.
Syd’s more than capable of doing what he has to do, but he’s surprisingly good at communicating his intentions to anyone who’ll listen. This stands out as a big difference between Syd and many of his OTHER cocaine-fueled characters.
The Missed Opportunities
The 1980’s Setting
I love 80’s movies! I love the music, the fashion, and especially the movies! And, when you have a drug like Cocaine so closely identified with the decade as it is, setting Cocaine Bear in the 1980’s feels like such a perfect fit.
Unfortunately, Cocaine Bear may be set in the 80’s, but there’s not much of the 1980’s in Cocaine Bear. Even though the hair and wardrobe clearly is set in the 80’s, there’s very little about any of the characters that fit into this time period.
Christian Convery as ‘Henry’, and Brooklynn Price as ‘Dee Dee’ specifically could have and should have easily fit into that 80’s teen mold. Henry could’ve been spouting lines from ‘Back To The Future’ and ‘Goonies’ lines left and right, especially after the adults start chasing around the kids. Dee Dee could’ve been listening to 80’s music on a walkman, or spoke with 80’s lingo like ‘Like…’ or ‘Awesome’. Instead, both kids looked and sounded more like adults from any era. And, like they’ve already gone through years of talk therapy.
Every one of our characters could’ve played more into 80’s stereotypes, making the 80’s setting worthwhile. Instead, we get a script and character personality types that could be from any time in the last 50 years. We don’t even get a ‘Just Say No!’ line from Isiah Whitlock, Jr, and he’s playing a Drug Cop! So disappointing.
Director Elizabeth Banks
I’ve always been a fan of Elizabeth Banks, in front of and behind the camera. But ultimately, Elizabeth Banks fails as a Director of Cocaine Bear by failing to decide on a distinct style and tone for the flick.
Banks sets the film in the 1980’s, yet doesn’t make the film FEEL like an 80’s movie, outside of the clothing on the characters. The way characters speak, the lack of pop culture/political references — none of them scream out ‘1980’s’.
Bigger than the setting is the overall direction and style of the film. There are times where Cocaine Bear feels like a 70’s slasher film — like Friday The 13th, and there are times where Cocaine Bear feels like ‘The Goonies.
But those feelings and tones don’t last more than a scene or two. Cocaine Bear can’t decide on a tone or style of film. Is it an 80’s Comedy? A 70’s slasher flick? How about an Indie Drama?
Even the first kill scene with the German tourists goes on for five whole minutes with as generic dialogue as possible. Rather than setting the tone for the rest of the film, it drags on and on long enough that you’re actually kind of rooting for the Cocaine Bear to make her first kill. What Law And Order can do in a three-line walk-and-talk, Cocaine Bear fails to do in roughly five minutes of screen time.
Cocaine Bear is a Rated-R film. It’s a film where a Cocaine-fueled Black Bear attacks and kills so many people.
And YET, there’s not much blood. And, the kills aren’t creative and aren’t memorable.
Even the first kill of the film fails to make an impact. The kill takes place OFF CAMERA, with a simple reaction shot and a severed leg.
There’s even a scroll at the beginning of the film talking about the difference between Black Bears and Brown Bears. Yet, when we see Cocaine Bear high on Cocaine and killing people, there’s a few scenes where Cocaine Bear silently and slowly stalks her victims. That hardly sounds like a bear, or someone high on cocaine.
The Review — Cocaine Bear
B-Movies at their core should have fun and know what they are. Cocaine Bear doesn’t do much of either.
Despite having a great premise, great decade, and great cast, Cocaine Bear is flat, and boring. In other words, Cocaine Bear’s the EXACT opposite of what a B-movie, an Indie movie, a highly stylized/purposefully bad movie should be.
The tone of Cocaine Bear is all over the place, from straight ahead drama, to low key indie film, to 70’s slasher film, to 80’s kid/teen Comedy.
There’s too many characters for a film of this size, and those characters spend too much time developing backstories only to get killed off by Cocaine Bear minutes later. Our teen characters lack any kind of interesting personality or life problems other than not getting along with their parents. Our DEA detective played by The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock, Jr. is more worried about abandoning a pet dog than finding cocaine. And, Emmy Award winning Park Ranger is more worried about her perfume than a homicidal bear on cocaine.
It feels like the cast is at an acting workshop trying to find quirky affectations for their characters, more than running from a Cocaine fueled Black Bear.
The scenes with the CGI Cocaine Bear are great, but all of the human scenes drag on and on to pad out the movie’s run time. And, a lack of Directorial vision from Elizabeth Banks leaves the film feeling like a rudderless ship.
What could’ve been a truly quirky, funny, and bloody Comedy Horror film, like Snakes On A Plane, or a highly stylized Dumb Comedy, like Dude Where’s My Car?; instead leaves you looking at your watch. You don’t care about the human characters, and you can’t wait for the talking to stop so that the Cocaine Bear killing can start.
Flat. Disappointing. Wasted opportunity.
Skip It. One and a half Stars out of Five.