I often roll my eyes when I see films that claim to be "based on a true story". It's often a selling point for a movie that is as closely related to the truth as I am to Michael B. Jordan. I didn't mind it with Cocaine Bear though, a film that takes a bizarre real life starting point (a black bear that was found to have overdosed on over 30kg of cocaine dropped by smugglers flying overhead) and turns it into a wild and entertaining "what if?" scenario.
The plot is simple, but allows for a number of different people to be placed in danger. The cocaine is dropped. The bear ingests some cocaine. The bear is high, and looking to get more cocaine. Meanwhile, Daveed (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) have been sent by Syd (Ray Liotta) to retrieve the missing cocaine, obviously oblivious to the idea that it may have already been enjoyed by a huge bear. Young Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery) have skipped to school to trek around the forest that now contains the Cocaine Bear, which leads to a worried mother, Sari (Keri Russell), requesting help from a couple of forest workers (Ranger Liz, played by Margo Martindale, and a conservationist named Peter, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Meanwhile, a cop (Bob, played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.) also enters the forest, trying to trace the missing cocaine after finding the corpse of the smuggler who fell to his death after knocking himself unconscious. A few more bits of food (dammit . . . people, I mean people) enter the forest, and the scene is set for numerous encounters between scared humans and a coked-up bear. Oh, and it's 1985, which allows for some fun wardrobe choices.
Written by Jimmy Warden, who started his screenwriting career with his co-writing credit on The Babysitter: Killer Queen, this is a fun film, but also a messy one. Everything is set up nicely, in terms of the characters and their disposability, but few of the sequences flow well, either individually or in connection to other moments around them. It's a bit of a mess, but at least it's a fun mess.
The third feature to be directed by Elizabeth Banks (a very smart and funny actress who has been doing really well for herself for over two decades now, whether you like her projects or not), I feel better about seeing the success of Cocaine Bear than I feel about the film itself. The mix of carnage and comedy works well in theory, and the trailer did a great job of selling it to people, but it's a harder sell throughout the movie, only ever intermittently successful. The greatest moment in the entire film, involving the bear and some paramedics in an ambulance, leaves the rest of it feeling surprisingly unenergised. And a film with so much cocaine at the centre of it shouldn't be lacking energy.
I have no complaints about the cast though, whether they're playing typically tired criminal lackeys or young kids tempted to sample from a brick of cocaine found in the forest. Prince and Convery are highlights, and it's more fun to watch them with the idea that they might actually be killed off at any moment. Jackson Jr. and Ehrenreich work well together, suitably deflated whenever they are being chewed out by a typically great Liotta (in one of the last roles filmed before his death), and Martindale, Ferguson, and Whitlock Jr. all pitch their performances nicely in line with the tone of what the film is striving for.
There are a number of canny song choices on the soundtrack, a good helping of graphic gore here and there, and a third act that manages to make you actually root for the bear to continue rampaging, so the good certainly outweighs the bad. It's just a shame that it couldn't have been put together in a way that would allow it to flow a bit better, and moved the best scene to much nearer the very end. Maybe I'm being too picky though. I know I'll definitely rewatch this. And I know it's a fun time. A lot of other people agree, which means that most people reading this review will have seen it already anyway.
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