From the first scene, it’s clear what kind of film Cocaine Bear is. Set to the chugging riffs and squealing guitar solos of Jefferson Starship’s soft rock hit ‘Jane’, a battered airplane (potentially a nod to Starship’s previous incarnation) splutters through a storm. Inside, a mustachioed drug runner flings big bags stuffed with coke through the open plane door. Dressed in a loudly patterned shirt and sunglasses, with a telltale trail of white powder leaking from his conk, he looks kind of like your dad did after that fancy dress 50th he went to as Scarface. When ‘70s Dad gets to the final bag, he prepares to parachute to safety. Unfortunately, he jumps too enthusiastically out of the door, smashes his head on the frame slapstick-style and falls unconscious to his death. It’s all very silly, but not as silly as what’s to come.
Based on the 1985 story about a bear who ingested a sports holdall’s worth of blow, Cocaine Bear was always a mad idea for a movie – even before director Elizabeth Banks turned it into a violent horror comedy splattered with bloody gore. Whereas the real Pablo Escobear was found dead, Banks’ blotto beastie goes on a murderous rampage. We spend most of the time with the bear’s unwitting targets – a couple of schoolkids bunking off in the woods; the misfit search party that goes to find them (led by Keri Russell’s outdoorsy mum); and an inept drug dealer duo (Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr.) desperate to track down the lost coke packages littered across the Georgia countryside. There’s more than a few jump-scares, wild ambulance chases and a hugely watchable Ray Liotta in his final ever film appearance.
So far, so good. You can have a lot of fun with Cocaine Bear, mostly because of how bonkers it is. Things happen that would just not be allowed in other films, like when the kids (who are 12 years old) nervously sample from a fat brick of gak. Banks has said in interviews that she wanted the film to be as controversial as possible – and she’s definitely succeeded. The problem is that so much time and effort has gone into dreaming up shocking ways to kill people or make them do Class As, that the story has been forgotten. There isn’t one. Instead, characters ping-pong from one place to another for no plausible reason other than it makes the writer’s life easier. Throw in several lazy plot holes – the most annoying of these being when the bear hides in a forest cabin’s backroom, somehow closing the door behind itself – and the thrilling highs can quickly turn to brutal comedowns.
Luckily, the concept itself is so intoxicating that people can’t stop talking about it. Pre-release ticket sales project a box office-topping result for opening weekend, while a clever marketing campaign means social media is awash with excitement. There’s already talk of a sequel, Cocaine Shark, and the cast have joked about getting jobs in the Cocaine Bear Cinematic Universe. So maybe it doesn’t really matter if Cocaine Bear is average, as long as it has both cocaine and bears in it. And we can most definitely confirm that it does.
- Director: Elizabeth Banks
- Starring: Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta
- Release date: February 24 (in cinemas)