March 9th, 2023

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Release Date: February 24th, 2023

Format/Platform: DLP 

Cocaine Bear

The title for this film is intriguing and I will admit that I was lured into watching it by title alone. I then found out it was directed by actress Elizabeth Banks, who I have been a fan of since Zack and Miri Make a Porno. She directed Pitch Perfect 2 and Charlie's Angels previously, with this film being her first not being a sequel or based on prior material. I read some reviews and they came out fairly positive, so I figured I would give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised by other retro themed movies such as Hobo with a Shotgun and this seemed like a slam dunk. In retrospect, I overhyped myself too much and left the theater wanting more.

Based on a true story in which a black bear consumed a lethal amount of cocaine that fell from a smuggler's plane, it obviously takes many creative liberties to make a good story. Instead of simply overdosing, the mama bear becomes a coke-fueled addict and wrecks havoc on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Several stories intertwine; the man receiving the coke, played by the late Ray Liotta in his final film role, sends his son and best friend to retrieve the goods. A young girl and her friend skip school to go explore the forest. A park ranger and a wildlife activist. A European couple that are hiking through the park. A mom searching for earlier-mentioned young girl. A group of thugs from the city that stumbled across the cocaine. A detective. To be honest that's probably not everyone in the movie, which is a major problem. There is a lack of focus; there should be two story threads, three at most, going on. We don't see any of the character's lives; most are disposable cannon fodder for the bear, or sloppily written in as expository characters. The only interesting characters are the criminals and the mom with her daughter; it reminds me of The Goonies in that they are searching for the same thing and cross paths. 

Which leads me onto my next gripe, which is the lack of consistency regarding tone and theme. One moment the movie is horror themed, then action-adventure, and then a crime drama; all the while having comedic elements. If they stuck with one major theme and then had some comedy, it would have sufficed. There are many successful dark comedies, which is what I think this movie was trying to achieve. Instead it is a confusing mess thematically, and half the time I am not even sure what genre it is trying to be. Don't get me wrong, I like genre-bending films, but this film is a perfect example of what not to do. The film is rated R and they could have spent much more energy making it edgier since they were already granted that rating; if it was PG-13 I could understand why they would hold back, but it is missing something. There are a few moments that are legitimately funny- specifically the character Olaf, the European boyfriend of deceased Elsa, is hilarious. A couple of jokes regarding cocaine usage are also amusing and made me smile, but that was about it. It's not gruesome enough to be horror, funny enough to be a comedy, nor serious enough to be a drama or thriller. The special effects are also not great; I am a traditionalist and prefer traditional special effects over CGI, but the computer generated effects in this film are exceptionally poor. I understand that fur rendering is one of the most difficult and energy-intensive effects, but the bear and her cubs look absolutely HIDEOUS. 

Where does the film shine? It does a great job nailing the mid-1980's aesthetic and it didn't leave me with any doubts regarding period accuracy. The cars all look from the era, the clothing is appropriate and even the language the characters use is faithful to the time period. You can see obvious influence from shows like Stranger Things, in which the aesthetic has become very popular. As previously mentioned there are also a couple of funny moments and characters; along with Olaf is Liz, the park ranger, who provides some legitimate comedic relief. Ray Liotta's performance is great as always- pulling off the criminal character perfectly in his usual fashion. The story arc between him and his son is also particularly interesting and more energy should have been put into that, along with the son's relationship with his best friend. The mom protecting the kids from the bear and criminals could have also been developed more, and I can see the allegory between two mothers protecting her children. This could have been tapped into for a more profound and hidden message, but this appears to be completely missed.

I really hate to trash this movie as it had so much potential, either as a fun action romp or a gratuitous horror film. The main issue is that it tries to please everyone, yet pleases nobody. It already got an R rating which means they can smoke, drink, do drugs, swear and show nudity. This could have been taken advantage of to make this generation's Return of the Living Dead or Shaun of the Dead. Instead we get a milquetoast film that will be quickly forgotten as another one of those "80's aesthetic" movies from the 2010's and 2020's. 

Rating: 2.5/5