A bear ingests cocaine in the aptly titled “Cocaine Bear.” Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Cocaine Bear, in theaters Friday, is exactly the outrageous movie the title promises – and a well-crafted monster movie at that.
In 1985, Andrew Thornton fell out of his plane over Chattahoochee National Forest while making cocaine drops. The plane crashed, and a black bear ingested some of the downed powder.
That part is true.
The film, written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Banks, imagines the coke-fueled bear as Jaws in the forest.
The bear shows up immediately high to torment some hikers. Then the film’s main characters converge upon the forest.
Syd White (Ray Liotta) sends his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenrich) and drug dealer Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to look for the lost cocaine. Sari (Keri Russell) rushes to the forest to find her runaway daughter, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), who played hooky with her friend, Henry (Christian Convery).
Tennessee Detective Bob (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) crosses state lines to find the cocaine before Syd can. Liz Winters (Margo Martindale) is the park ranger caught in the middle of all these converging forces.
Already, Cocaine Bear establishes a lot of potential bear food. Liz also welcomes wildlife inspector Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), while three teenagers (Aaron Holiday, J.B. Moore, Leo Hanna) screw up Eddie and Daveed’s operation.
Once the bear attacks begin, two paramedics (Kahyun Kim, Scott Seiss) arrive which only means more fodder for bear attacks.
Cocaine Bear keeps the pace moving between several major subplots. The bear gets in the way of all of them, though it’s easy to root for Sari to save the kids and cheer for the bear to get the drug dealers.
The cops and drug dealers do get more screen time than the innocent mother and kids. It could be a tad more balanced in that regard, but it’s never boring.
The bear’s motivation is very clear – she wants more cocaine. Every time she gets more, it’s like Popeye eating a can of spinach and she gets powered up again.
The bear kills escalate in graphic outrageousness. The bear also does some things far more surprising than biting and clawing people.
Even though Cocaine Bear shows the bear right away, other scenes are constructed with Spielbergian suspense. Sometimes the bear runs behind the unsuspecting characters, and one sequence has the bear take cover in bushes.
There are plenty of full frontal bear attacks there. It’s a given that the bear is CGI because she always looks animated, i.e. a tad more wobbly than a real animal.
It’s better the bear utilize animation than provoke a bear to behave recklessly. The film gives her enough personality to make her as much of a character as Syd, Sari, Eddie and Daveed.
The bear definitely engenders sympathy because she doesn’t deserve to be hurt by drug dealers or a gun-wielding park ranger. She was just being a bear when cocaine dropped in her back yard.
Hollywood used to thrive on premise-driven movies like Cocaine Bear. Hopefully, such a well-executed one can usher in a new age of buzzworthy ideas.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.