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Absurd mayhem aplenty in ‘Cocaine Bear’

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice Contributor
| March 1, 2023 1:00 AM

Sometimes a title tells you everything you need to know.

In “Cocaine Bear,” a black bear ingests a bunch of cocaine and goes crazy. A collection of kooky characters suffer grisly deaths (pun very much intended).

Probably the world-record holder for loosest application of the “Inspired by true events” tagline, “Cocaine Bear” already holds a cult-status with particular audiences. The title announcement alone tickled movie nerds in ways unseen since Samuel L. Jackson got really tired of dealing with those (expletive deleted) snakes on that (expletive deleted) plane.

“Cocaine Bear” knows its audience wants ridiculous bear antics and blood-splattered kills, and, for the most part, the movie delivers on that promise. Directed by actress Elizabeth Banks (this is her third directorial effort after “Pitch Perfect 2” and the 2019 “Charlie’s Angels” reboot), the movie rises above Syfy Channel schlock thanks to an engaging (and supremely overqualified) cast.

Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden speed through the true life elements at the start: A drug smuggler dies in a parachuting accident after dropping several duffel bags full of cocaine all across the woods in Tennessee. A bear finds some cocaine and eats it. Then the fiction begins, and the bear starts ripping hikers and various ne’er-do-wells apart.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich share a fun dynamic playing two men searching for the missing cocaine under the direction of a drug kingpin played by Ray Liotta (reliably demented in his final screen role). Keri Russell, meanwhile, plays a single mom searching for her class-cutting daughter (Brooklynn Prince). Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays an irritated detective lumbering through the woods on the lookout for the drugs, and Margo Martindale earns the biggest laughs as a bumbling park ranger.

The cast keep things entertaining, even as many of them meet violent ends thanks to the coked-out bear. The beast is an entirely CGI creation, and, unfortunately, the effects work alternates between merely competent and painfully cartoonish. While it’s not exactly Yogi Bear, the titular Cocaine Bear never proves to be a menacing force, leaving the film to rely on its sporadic humor and gore sequences.

The practical gore effects work well enough, but too often “Cocaine Bear” deploys more cheap CGI for some of the more outrageous kill shots. Even with the notable cast present, the budget restraints on “Cocaine Bear” keeps the film from meeting its true horror-comedy potential. It’s not anywhere near “Sharknado” territory when it comes to lousy effects, thank goodness, but it’s enough to hinder some of the fun.

Will any of that matter to the people who want to see a movie called “Cocaine Bear?” Certainly not. It’s not even worth talking about the overall story here, or whether some of the film’s human characters have opportunities for growth and change (although to be fair, Ehrenreich’s character does reassess his life after the bear takes a prolonged nap on top of him).

All you need to know is this: The CGI bear eats a bunch of cocaine and does crazy, violent things. You’ll either never see it, or you bought your ticket already.

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Tyler Wilson is a member of the International Press Academy and has been writing about movies for Inland Northwest publications since 2000, including a regular column in The Press since 2006. He can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com.

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Universal Pictures via AP

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Aaron Holliday, left, and O'Shea Jackson Jr. in a scene from "Cocaine Bear."

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Pat Redmond/Universal Pictures via AP

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Keri Russell in a scene from "Cocaine Bear," directed by Elizabeth Banks.

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Universal Pictures via AP

This image released by Universal Pictures shows O'Shea Jackson Jr., from left, Ayoola Smart, Alden Ehrenreich and Ray Liotta in a scene from "Cocaine Bear."

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Pat Redmond/Universal Pictures via AP

This image released by Universal Pictures shows director Elizabeth Banks on the set of "Cocaine Bear."