Directed by: Elizabeth Banks
Premise: A drug smuggler airdrops duffle bags of cocaine into a national park. A black bear consumes some of the drugs and becomes enraged, attacking anyone in its path.
What Works: Man versus nature stories have to find a way to put human beings in direct conflict with killer animals and the filmmakers of Cocaine Bear come up with a credible premise. Two kids (Christian Convery and Brooklynn Prince) ditch school for a trip to the woods and one of their parents (Keri Russell) has to find them. Meanwhile, drug runners and law enforcement converge on the park in search of the cocaine and eventually the parties cross paths. The cast is quite talented and they are given some room to be quirky and create distinct characters, especially the detective played by Isiah Whitlock Jr. and a local hooligan played by Aaron Holliday. Cocaine Bear was produced with a sensibility akin to South Park and it has a similar sense of humor. Portions of the movie are funny and the digitally created bear is mostly convincing.
What Doesn’t: A lot of the marketing materials for Cocaine Bear have emphasized that this film is “inspired by true events.” The filmmakers use that phrase very loosely. Almost nothing in Cocaine Bear is based on reality but that’s consistent with the way Hollywood has typically employed the “based on a true story” moniker. Cocaine Bear’s problems are not in its fidelity to truth but in the filmmakers’ inability to identify a coherent tone. Parts of Cocaine Bear are goofy; a lot of the human drama is deliberately funny in the manner of a television sitcom. The characters are given some background and cope with domestic problems but the resolutions of those subplots are not very satisfying. With a few exceptions, the bear attacks are mostly serious. The filmmakers never reconcile the discordant tone of the movie. That’s evident in the visual style which is rather flat. The movie has a drab color scheme, night scenes are murky, and the scary sequences lack tension. The energy comes and goes. The film lacks the unpredictability that makes both comedy and horror engaging. Cocaine Bear doesn’t slip easily between drama, humor, and horror in the way of Tremors or Ready or Not and it doesn’t exploit the absurdity of the premise. In sum, Cocaine Bear remains in a limbo that is never funny enough nor frightening enough.
Bottom Line: Cocaine Bear has a novel premise that the filmmakers never quite exploit to its full potential. It’s passable as a thriller but Cocaine Bear is never enough of anything to leave an impression.
Episode: #942 (April 2, 2023)