And it’s exactly what you think it is
Back in 2006 there was a high-concept comedy called “Snakes on a Plane” that largely came into being because of the Interwebs. With a built-in fanbase, and based on the premise of its title, it achieved a sort of cult status before the movie even came out. There was also the idea that, at some point during the proceedings, Sam Jackson, in his legendary elocution, would utter the somewhat crowd-sourced line, “I’ve had it with these mother***king snakes on this mother***king plane!” Apparently, the studio went back to shoot that scene because nerds wanted it. Or something. Either way, it’s the only reason to see “Snakes on a Plane.”
And so, there was some cause for concern that “Cocaine Bear,” with a similarly kitschy concept, and similarly premature cult status, would also be a letdown.
Well, not so much.
Based, very loosely, on the true story of a drug trafficker who inadvertently killed himself while parachuting over a Tennessee forest with a lot of blow, the story of “Cocaine Bear” more or less begins where the truth ends.
It’s 1985 in Georgia, and Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), dissatisfied with her mother, Sari (Keri Russell) for bailing on their weekend plans, opts to skip school and go on a walkabout in the woods with her best friend Henry (Christian Convery) to spray-tag some rocks, and generally be low-key delinquents. They come across a kilo-sized brick of cocaine (we should all be so lucky)—just before being attacked by a massive black bear who is already wired like John Belushi.
Meanwhile, a pair of combative criminals, Daveed and Eddie (O’Shea Jackson and Alden Ehrenriech) are conscripted by Syd (Ray Liotta, in his final role) to recover the lost coke, just as a local detective, Bob (“The Wire’s” Isiah Whitlock Jr.) investigates the mystery of the misplaced stash. Even more meanwhile, Sari, upon learning that her daughter is missing, goes on the hunt to find her, and Henry, with the help of a hapless park ranger, Liz (Margo Martindale). Needless to say, their worlds collide in often bloody ways.
The real story is that the bear ate a bunch of cocaine and simply dropped dead. But with her third film behind the camera, Elizabeth Banks (along with screenwriter Jimmy Warden, and producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller) adapt “Cocaine Bear” into a thematic tale of family and survival, as well as a crowd-pleasing revenge story for an innocent bear who died because people are the actual problem.
The b-movie tropes here are at the forefront. But it’s funny, sometimes hilariously violent, and it constantly wears that wink on its sleeve. It’s also sincere, and very well-made (the bear FX are handled by Weta Digital, which might be the most expensive thing about it, and the score—composed by former Devo front man, Mark Mothersbaugh—is a wonderfully period-accurate delight).
It’s clear that everyone involved was having a blast, which is basically the bar for the cast’s performances, and “Cocaine Bear’s” utterly infectious, light-hearted vibe. That strange balance of clueless, sympathetic characters, versus its gory, cartoonish, and very satisfying comedic uppercuts, are well-timed. The pedigree of Lord and Miller (“Lego Batman,” and the “21 Jump Street” series) again proves they know how to take a concept that might seem silly or banal on the surface and spin some gold out of it—as well as director Elizabeth Banks, whose career acting in comedy roles ranges from “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” to “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Wet Hot American Summer.” They, collectively, exhibit a deftly crowd-pleasing hand. Or hands. Every movie is collaborative. You know what I mean.
So, yeah. Believe the hype. I can only imagine this will get played quite a bit amongst friends on various substances for quite some time. And there’s already a knock-off called “Meth Gator” so there’s that.
“Cocaine Bear” is currently playing in theaters pretty much everywhere.