With such a huge media frenzy surrounding the promotional campaign for ‘Cocaine Bear’ it’s not unreasonable to suggest that this could’ve been the cult film of the year. It had a fantastic trailer, a decent tag-line (Get in Line) and an impressive ensemble. However upon reflection, the film really struggles with its slender 95 minute runtime and ultimately it’s a forgettable romp with only a few brief moments of genuine delight. This is a huge shame as there was a lot of potential here.
Loosely based on real events, this story is certainly bonkers, and something so crazy it can only have happened in real life. An airborne shipment of drugs is dumped into the vast forests of Georgia from a light aircraft. The big bricks of cocaine are scattered across the wilderness, and a wild black bear soon gets into one of the bricks. Now coked-up and looking for his next hit, the bear runs rampage as groups of local people encounter the beast – including a mother looking for some lost children, a park ranger, a local youth gang, and the criminals who own the cocaine and are looking to salvage their product at any cost.
It should be said that ‘Cocaine Bear’ does have good moments, with the initial set-up handled well, and the brief introductions to the principal characters handled with decent brevity. The first encounters with the bear are also very good, but after a superb scene with an emergency ambulance crew (the film’s best sequence by far), it becomes apparent very quickly that the rest of the narrative just can’t keep up.
The middle-to-end of the film is pondering and slow – you’ll clock-watch a fair bit, and that’s unforgivable for a 95min film that drags incredibly. You also realise that the budget has clearly peaked in the opening sequences, with the rest of the film just dialogue-heavy scenes with characters you don’t really care about. A few of the bear’s early casualties would have been better-placed surviving the carnage for longer, if just to keep things interesting.
The cast can’t be faulted for this and are all decent enough. The late, great Ray Liotta steals his scenes as Syd, the increasingly frustrated drugs trafficker on the hook for the missing coke. This was his last feature film, and Liotta dominates his set-pieces, reminding us what a huge loss he is to the industry. Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr deserved much better material as two gang-runners (one reluctantly) who are tasked with tracking down the missing shipment. Keri Russell is good as Sari, a nurse looking for her daughter Dee Dee (The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince) and her school-bunking friend Henry (Christian Convery). In fact, the kid’s story is handled quite haphazardly, with big narrative holes and plot points that are never explored properly.
The majestic Margot Martindale is wonderful as Park Ranger Liz, who is less worried about her job and more interested in flirting with the brilliant Jesse Tyler Ferguson – cameoing here as hilarious wig-wearing animal welfare expert named Peter. He should have been in this film for much longer. Everyone’s favourite warrior from Game of Thrones, Kristofer Hivju is solid as a foreign tourist who first encounters the bear. Kahyun Kim and Scott Seiss are excellent as paramedics introduced into the carnage. Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Ayoola Smart’s characters are wasted, especially given their set-up at the start.
For a film called ‘Cocaine Bear’, there’s not enough bear for me onscreen. The opening sequences burn through a lot of the best bits very quickly and the film quickly loses momentum and ideas. ‘Snakes on a Plane’ remains the best modern example of a cult film of this type which delivers on every front. Sadly ‘Cocaine Bear’ is nowhere near as good. Even that outstanding ‘John West’ salmon commercial 23 years ago of a bear and a fisherman having a fight is better than this film. ‘Cocaine Bear’ is a real missed opportunity given the talent involved.
Cast: Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Brooklynn Prince, Christian Convery, Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Hoekstra, Kahyun Kim, Scott Seiss, Matthew Rhys, Ayoola Smart, Aaron Holliday, J.B. Moore, Leo Hanna Director: Elizabeth Banks Writer: Jimmy Warden Certificate: 15 Duration: 95 mins Released by: Universal Release date: 24th February 2023