Film Review: Cocaine Bear

FIFTY+SA film and book reviewer, Dave Bradley, reviews Elizabeth Banks’ third feature film as producer/director Cocaine Bear (MA).

Prolific actress, writer, producer, vocal artist and singer (sort of) Elizabeth Banks’ third feature film as producer/director is a drawn-from-some-kind-of-truth (but not really) darkly comedic horror/gore epic soaked in ‘80s silliness.

Yes, there really was a shipment of cocaine thrown from a plane by one Andrew C. Thornton II in Georgia back in 1985, and yes, a black bear really did ingest some, but in actuality the poor thing quickly expired, and didn’t go nuts and bloodily munch on a gaggle of hapless characters. But what were you expecting? Facts???

The dopey Thornton (Matthew Rhys) is seen unloading the coke before accidentally meeting his end, and then we briefly meet an ill-fated pair of Scandinavian hikers, Olaf and Elsa (Kristofer Hivju and Hannah Hoekstra), but the main plot here has multiple other fools trekking into the Georgian (actually Irish) forests, little knowing that a drugged-up bear is freaking the Hell out close by.

Firstly, two playing-hooky kids, Dee Dee (Broklynn Prince) and Henry (Christina Convery), naively hike down a track, and they somehow just miss the pair of low-rent hoods, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), who have been assigned to find the coke by crime kingpin (and Eddie’s Dad) Syd Dentwood, as played by a glowering Ray Liotta in his final completed role before his death on May 26 last year.

O’Shea (looking like a softer version of his Dad Ice Cube) and Alden (a.k.a. that failed young Han Solo) are an appealing duo, and there’s some nice character stuff as teary Eddie wails while Daveed is attacked by a trio of gormless thugs (Aaron Holliday, J.B. Moore, Leo Hanna), and they certainly regret it. There’s also a lovestruck ranger named Liz (Margo Martindale), a goofy animal activist named Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), dogged detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr., who always plays cops) and, finally, local nurse Sari, Dee Dee’s Mom, as portrayed by top-billed Keri Russell (whose famous frizzy hair is cut well back here, despite the ‘80s setting).

And then there’s the bear which, if this was actually made in the 1980s, would have been played by a stuntman in a baggy suit, but here the thing is an FX creation (via ‘motion capture’/‘mo-cap’) or, in a few shots, a puppet, which means that anyone worried about the mistreatment of a real critter need not worry. Indeed, director Banks and scripter Jimmy Warden make sure that we feel sympathy for the out-of-its-head beast, even as it tears limbs off the characters, chomps on CG intestines and, in an extended and ouchy-funny sequence, enragedly chases an ambulance to the tune of Depeche Mode’s classic Just Can’t Get Enough.

Just how much gory New Romantic fun can you, um, bear?

Cocaine Bear (MA) is showing at cinemas now

6 out 10 STARS

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