Cocaine Bear promises, on title alone, to be a goofy good time. Loosely based on a true story, Cocaine Bear fails even in being said goofy good time.
Georgia, 1985. A drug smuggler drops massive loads of cocaine from the sky and ends up dead when he knocks himself unconscious and falls. A bear happens upon some cocaine and ingests it. Now totally high and out-of-control, the bear goes on a murderous rampage.
That rampage affects a group of disparate people. There are the drug runners: Syd (Ray Liotta), his right-hand man Daveed (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.) and Syd's weepy son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich). There is park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) and her possibly platonic, possibly not friend Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Three minor hoodlums also get mixed into the murder and mayhem. Perhaps the most in danger is Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince), a young girl who has skipped school with her BFF Henry (Christian Convery) to paint in the forest. Dee Dee's mother Sari (Keri Russell), begins her desperate search, not helped by anyone.
As these various figures cross paths, the bear keeps on killing, creating havoc and chaos everywhere she goes. Who will live and who will die from a drugged-crazed bear?
I think most people expected Cocaine Bear to be something campier and more outlandish than what we ultimately got. I think it is because the Jimmy Warden script thought audiences would care about the people versus just catering to their hopes for gleeful slaughter.
Though at a surprising 95 minutes, Cocaine Bear feels longer, primarily because the film wanted desperately to build up drama with uninteresting characters. Why we needed to get Eddie's tragic stories of his wife and friend's death the film does not answer. Cocaine Bear gives us so many stories (the Duchamp crime gang, the drug runners, an out-of-town detective attempting to find the cocaine, Sari and Dee Dee, the ranger and her potential boy-toy), that it soon starts losing focus.
There was no need to introduce so many characters, especially if you are going to have a short film. Audiences, I think, wanted to see a coked-out animal run wild through the forest, not delve into Eddie's emotional crises or Syd's efforts at raising his grandkid. Even Eddie's bad tattoo, where he had "John" instead of "Joan" inked, is cause for him to cry.
That "John/Joan" bit is not funny because it has not been set up. Given Ehrenreich's performance, one is not sure if Eddie is supposed to be in a comedy or some deep drama.
I put it down to director Elizabeth Banks, who had a wild imbalance in style. She could not get Russell to decide if she had a Southern accent or not (it comes and goes at will). She could not get Ehrenreich to decide if he was in a family tragedy film or a silly comedy. Liotta played it straight, and it saddens me that one of his last screen credits ends with him getting cut open by a bear and her cubs while being hung by his own esophagus.
To be fair, both Martindale and Jackson, Jr. did well, as if they knew Cocaine Bear was camp and played it as such regardless of what Banks and Warden did. Everyone else pretty much ran the difference from bored to over-acting.
The one good scene is when the ambulance attempts to flee the bear with a critically injured Liz. While I am not sure having Depeche Mode's Just Can't Get Enough play during the scene was a good idea, at least it gives Cocaine Bear a bit of a jolt. This scene has some energy and some of the outlandish humor I thought Cocaine Bear was aiming for.
Unable to decide whether to fully embrace its wild premise or try and play it more straightforward, Cocaine Bear's schizophrenic manner ends up killing what could have been frothy fun.