Starring Keri Russell, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Margo Martindale, Ray Liotta, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.
You don’t buy a ticket for a movie called “Cocaine Bear” without expecting unrestrained chaos. However, the elements you don’t expect make this wild ride more fun. It’s directed by actress/director Elizabeth Banks (“Charlie’s Angels,” “The Hunger Games”) and fueled by her twisted sense of dark humor. It’s also loosely based on actual events. By “loosely,” I mean cocaine went missing in a national park, and a bear ate some and died. Jimmy Warden (“The Babysitter”) devised this fictional plot around that one sentence of fact. “Cocaine Bear’s” secret weapon is Margo Martindale as a gun-toting, foul-mouthed, passionate park ranger, and whoever cast the Texas native in such a part. Suppose you saw David E. Kelley’s “Lake Placid” in 1999, starring a vulgar Betty White and a flesh-hungry gigantic crocodile. In that case, this is that, but with a bear on heavy amounts of cocaine.
A drug smuggler dumps numerous gym bags full of cocaine over the Chattahoochee National Forest near Blood Mountain. However, before Syd (Ray Liotta) and his boys can retrieve it, a bear consumes the white powder and gets a real taste for human flesh in his new state of mind. The old saying, “If the bear is black, attack; if brown, lay down,” doesn’t apply when either animal is on a drug-filled bender. Hikers, kids skipping school, tweakers, and forest personnel are all in danger from the out-of-control bear. Local nurse Sari (Keri Russell) heads into the woods looking for her tenacious daughter Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince), who skipped school to paint the local waterfall. When Sari teams up with Ranger Liz (Martindale), they discover Smokey hitting the powder.
Ranger Liz deserves her own sequel. Her unfiltered sass goes way beyond what Betty White got away with in “Lake Placid.”
In many ways, “Cocaine Bear” is more entertaining and satisfying than most scary movies. Martindale’s introduction to the crop-top criminal is one of the best scenes in the film. Ranger Liz deserves her own sequel. Her unfiltered sass goes way beyond what Betty White got away with in “Lake Placid.” Jimmy Warden’s script goes out of its way to be vulgar and gruesome, and Banks leans in, ensuring everyone gets their money’s worth. The violence is equal to a horror film. Banks and the team mostly balance comedy, insanity, and gore to suspend the audience in suspense. There’s never a clear answer on which character or actor is the lead, so no one is safe.
What isn’t so great is the CGI bear. We have all witnessed top-notch bear CGI in “The Revenant,” and this one is almost cartoonish in comparison. Since the cocaine bear isn’t behaving like an average bear, Banks admits to bending reality a bit for what a bear could/would do. Aside from the bear’s appearance, the lackluster plot of Liotta’s character trying to get the drugs back while the bear rips other characters to shreds is a satirical mood killer. It’s understandable wanting to feature the late actor in as many scenes as possible. Still, it doesn’t do the film any favors. Equally, Isiah Whitlock Jr., as the goofy detective, isn’t as well-written a character as some of the others. It’s a bonkers movie that’s entertaining because it’s so ridiculous — and thankfully short on running time.
Margo Martindale is laugh-out-loud hilarious, nearly stealing the entire show away from the title character.