Directed by: Elizabeth Banks
Distributed by: Universal
Written by Anna Harrison
“Cocaine Bear” has everything it needs to succeed in the title: cocaine and a bear.
Based on the true story of Pablo Escobear, a black bear who overdosed on a lot of cocaine in north Georgia and was subsequently stuffed and repurposed as a macabre tourist attraction, “Cocaine Bear” takes a simple, winning premise and tries to wring out several different melodramatic human stories from its script instead of focusing on its true star: the bear on cocaine. The bear is the biggest breakout star of the 21st century. The bear is my friend. I will protect this bear with my life. The bear, sadly, is not the character with the most screentime.
That likely belongs to Keri Russell’s character, whose name I can’t remember (Google tells me it’s Sari) and whose personality is “mother,” which is always a great personality for a woman to have. Her child is Didi (Brooklynn Prince), and Didi has skipped school to adventure in the Chattahoochee National Forest with her friend Henry (Christian Convery), and in this forest is a bear who has gotten high on cocaine from a failed drug drop. None of these people matter except the bear, but we are subjected to them anyway.
The drugs the bear has snorted belong to drug lord Syd (Ray Liotta), who sets his man Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and his son, Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich, who please God needs to do more comedies) on the case. As these are people invested in the ingested cocaine, it makes sense for the movie to focus on them; they aren’t a random child who has wandered off in the forest because some Universal executive decided this movie needed an emotional hook. These guys can stay, as well as Isiah Whitlock Jr. as the police officer on their case. (His partner, Reba, who is played with extreme dullness by Ayoola Smart, can go.) They should all, however, be side characters to my best friend, the cocaine bear, who is more of a supporting character than the title “Cocaine Bear” would suggest.
This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if the human drama were equally as engaging as the high-as-a-kite bear shenanigans, but there are so many characters (at least seven semi-relevant ones I haven’t even mentioned) and so many asides (a subplot about the police officer’s dog, for example) that any impact one of these stories might have gets diluted. Even if performers like Ehrenreich and Russell might be game, they can only do so much—besides, who wants to go see a movie called “Cocaine Bear” for the human drama of it all? Certainly not me. But as it is, we are introduced to a slew of characters who are summarily tossed aside one by one: they are introduced, we are given a flimsy reason to care that doesn’t actually get us to care, and then they are mauled by the cocaine bear.
“Cocaine Bear” never commits to the bit. Is it schlocky horror? Is it a suspenseful monster movie? Self-aware ridiculousness, committing to the spotty CGI? Family drama? Is it a comment on the Reagan era War on Drugs, as the movie’s inserted news reels seem to suggest? A total gross-out comedy? Screenwriter Jimmy Warden and director Elizabeth Banks apparently think their movie is all of those things, and so it doesn’t succeed at being any. The sporadic moments of fun, like an ambulance chase scene, are too brief, and too often my theater was silent during scenes clearly meant to be humorous—no contact high for us.
My sweet bear deserves better.
“Cocaine Bear” Trailer