Cocaine Bear review: grizzly good fun

Cocaine Bear
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When a black bear comes across a stash of cocaine in a Georgia forest, assorted character actors converge to meet their maker in Elizabeth Banks’ action-comedy gore-fest.     


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If a bear does a load of cocaine in the woods, but no-one is around to film it, did it really happen? Sadly, the real-life inspiration behind Elizabeth Banks’ over-indulgent furry heroine—which reportedly ate a total 34kg of cocaine in 1985—instantly died of an overdose. Smartly guessing that this sort of tragic (and very short) story wouldn’t play so well with audiences, Banks has instead chosen for the bear to do exactly what you’d expect a coked-up bear to do in a movie: roll around on the ground for a bit, then go on a killing spree.

In a rare case of a film whose elevator pitch is also the title, Cocaine Bear does what it says on the poster. Part goofy, Rat Race-adjacent action-comedy, part Jaws-in-the-woods-with-a-bear, the mega-viral marketing campaign has got this film’s tone nailed. If that sort of thing appeals to you (and it should) then go right ahead. If the idea of watching someone’s leg being torn off to 80s synth while Margo Martindale tries to seduce a government wildlife official brings you out in hives, begone to your grumpity-grump cave—this film is not for you.

For the rest of us, it’s reassuring to note that, while Cocaine Bear is perfectly aware of what movie it is, everything it does, it does well. Jimmy Warden’s screenplay does a rock-solid job of setting up good comedy engines, whether it’s the narcotics officer trying to give away his dog or the cartel-owner’s son dealing with a bereavement on the job. There’s plenty of good jokes thrown in there, and a number of set pieces manage to be laugh-out-loud funny without sacrificing all of the tension arising from an encounter with a 500-pound killing machine.

One very pleasant surprise is the quality of the performances. Banks, or perhaps the promise of a rare properly entertaining monster movie, has attracted a bizarre mix of some of the best character and comedy actors working today. Alden Ehrenreich, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, even Ray Liotta, in one of his final film appearances, all understand exactly what movie they’re in, and bring their B-movie A-game. A quick shoutout to casting directors Dylan Jury and Debra Zane, who have more than earned a drug-baron-sized paycheck for their work here.

It’s not all a walk in the national park, though. At a tight 95-minutes, the pacing zips along for the most part, but inevitably slows down before the final act as the film struggles to get all the mileage out of its titular bear’s coke habit. Part of that comes from the character relationships, which aren’t given the same space to breathe as something like M3GAN, which has a broadly similar tone. But then Cocaine Bear is very much an ensemble piece, and that it sacrifices a few character beats for some more excellently choreographed comedy is really no bad thing.  

So in the end, it’s pretty difficult to actually criticize Cocaine Bear. It does what you’d expect it to do, and not a jot more. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel as far as medium-budget monster movies are concerned, but nor does it need to. With a title like that, innovation really isn’t what we’re looking for. It delivers cocaine, and it delivers a bear. What more could we ask for than that?

[3 stars]

Cocaine Bear is in cinemas on 24th February.

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