2023 | rated R | starring Keri Russell, Christian Convery, Margo Martindale, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ray Liotta | directed by Elizabeth Banks | 1h 35m |
2023 Halloween Horrorfest, Pt 6
In 1985, a cocaine smuggler, jettisons his stash from a small plane over the Georgia forest, where 75 pounds of cocaine is ingested by a black bear that kidnaps a child and terrorizes her mother (Keri Russell), a park ranger (Margo Martindale), the dealers looking for the lost supply (Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson) and a cop on the trail (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who converge in the forest to find the money, the child and the bear.
Elizabeth Banks got a lot of flack for her Charlie’s Angels reboot, a movie I didn’t hate and anything where Kristen Stewart actually looks like she’s having a good time is ok by me. In that movie I at least knew what Banks was trying to accomplish. Whatever she’s trying to do with Cocaine Bear is a complete mystery. This movie practically begs you to hate it. It’s not appallingly bad or so-bad-it’s-good, it almost feels like it is trolling the very concept of campy fun bad movies by beating the life out of it. And I like – well – a bear to honey, took the bait.
Let’s start where the film was probably conceived. Cocaine Bear is a title in search of a story. It’s poster of a wild-eyed bear shaking off a flurry of powdered cocaine is like something you’d see on the wall of a studio executive’s office in Bojack Horseman. There is no reason to make a movie about a coked up bear on a rampage unless it is to have fun with it, and the film feels like it a choir to watch and a choir to make. As everyone who has lautered the charms of Plan 9 from Outer Space, Troll 2, The Room or Birdemic there is a fine art to a movie that is so bad it’s good. There has to be a level of both arrogance and ignorance on the part of the filmmaker. There has to be a level of unsophistication in the filmmaking where you can see past the scenes to what they were trying to do and failing. There is usually something outrageous and offensive involved.
Cocaine Bear plays it too safe on every level. There is nothing in it more outrageous than an average bear attack movie. It’s small in scope to give off the feeling of an indie movie but is way too polished to feel like one. It’s full of recognizable actors that breaks the spell of seeing unknown actors trying to make it big and getting in over their heads by an incompetent production – meaning, Margo Martindale isn’t trapped here by desperation, she actually wanted to be here. There is a razor’s edge balance in making a movie that is both silly and ridiculous and knows how silly and ridiculous it is but doesn’t tip into winking at itself and letting that undercut the film’s genuine attempts at thrills. It’s a lot.
It rarely works. Snakes on a Plane is probably the most famous example of a silly monster movie misreading the tone, leaning too hard into the horror and not exploiting the license to be silly for some truly outrageous set pieces. But it can work. The giant spider movie Eight Legged Freaks works, the sea slug movie Deep Rising works, Roland Emmerich’s adorable Godzilla works and then there is the high-water mark for a movie like this, Renny Harlin’s super-intelligent shark movie Deep Blue Sea – a movie that knows how silly it is and still delivers kick-ass set pieces. In fact, if you’re at all thinking about seeing Cocaine Bear and haven’t seen Deep Blue Sea – drop everything and go find that movie. It’s what The Meg wishes it was.
So why make a movie about a bear on cocaine? To deliver outrageous set pieces of a rampaging bear ripping people apart. Tearing up the set and cranking up the gore. This movie pretty much leaves everything where they found it. And that’s assuming no part of you wants to actually make something good, which part of this feels like that is the case too. That’s a complete miss. Nothing here is scary and nothing here is funny – and it is painfully unfunny with stock characters trading bad dialog, getting slowly and mostly bloodlessly whittled down.
Like a parody of a parody, I hated Cocaine Bear just like I was supposed to. It pops an eye winking at itself and wastes the time and talents of everyone involved in a movie that doesn’t have any idea what it’s potential is. The movie is saved from complete disaster by a mercifully short running time. Now if someone wants to get serious, dust off Renny Harlin to make Cocaine Bear II: Bear Arms I’m in.