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Cocaine Bear is available now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray™, DVD and Digital Download

In 1985, drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II drops a shipment of cocaine from his plane because it weighed too much. He attempts to parachute out with a drug-filled duffel bag, but knocks himself unconscious on the doorframe, causing him to fall to his death. His body lands in Knoxville, Tennessee where he’s identified by Bob, a local detective. He concludes that the cocaine is likely from St. Louis drug kingpin Syd White, and the remainder is missing. Meanwhile, in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, an American black bear eats some of the cocaine, becoming highly aggressive, though this doesn’t stop cops, criminals, tourists and teens all converging on the forest….

“The bear is a girl” cries somebody who has the bear lying on top pf him. “How do you know”? says another person. “Because my ear is in her vagina” is the reply. It’s quite amusing, but that’s about as good as it gets in terms of humour in Cocaine Bear, which takes as its starting point a fairly funny idea based on fact but doesn’t really run with it except for a few quick sequences, instead being a film which doesn’t seem to have much faith in its central premise and feels that it has to cram in as many characters and subplots as possible. “Based on fact” you ask? Well actually yes, it’s loosely inspired by the events surrounding a large American black bear that died after ingesting a duffel bag full of cocaine in December 1985. The cocaine had been dropped out of an airplane piloted by Andrew C. Thornton II, a former narcotics officer and convicted drug smuggler, because his plane was carrying too heavy a load. Thornton then jumped out of the plane with a faulty parachute and died. The bear, who died sometime after consuming the cocaine, was found three months later in northern Georgia alongside fourty opened plastic containers of cocaine. The creature is currently on display at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, Kentucky, which named the creature “Cocaine Bear” in 2015. Jimmy Warden’s script understandably takes a lot of creative liberties; in reality the bear didn’t kill a single soul. That of course wouldn’t do at all for a movie, so here we have a semi-slasher as various folks spend the film doing the last thing you should be doing when there’s a crazed, drug fueled bear lurking in the woods; shouting and walking aimlessly about looking for the same thing the bear is, with the animal gorily killing somebody off in a semi-comic way every now and again. There’s certainly something to be said for simplicity, but Elizabeth Banks, despite doing a better job of directing than in her previous two endeavours, can’t seem to sustain matters and give the picture the verve it should have except for scattered moments.

So we’re in 1985, and of course the filmmakers felt that we need to be constantly reminded of this with period pop songs and a score by Mark Mothersbaugh which often channels Tangerine Dream. Some quotes from Wikipedia about bears immediately set the rather awkward tone; light-hearted but generally not particularly funny. Drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II is both high as a kite and trying to lighten the load in his plane by chucking packages out the door. There’s some very incoherent editing here, which, even if it’s kind of appropriate given Thornton’s state, doesn’t bode well for the rest of the film. After his fatal accident, we’re introduced, via more really wonky cutting, to Olaf and Elsa, two hikers who soon come across the bear which has obviously already consumed some of the coke that was dropped into the forest and is banging its head repeatedly against a tree. The creature grabs Elsa and carries her off to consume her behind some trees, soon hurling a severed foot then the gored body at Olaf. We now know that we’re get some gore in this film, though it can’t seem to find the right balance between it being funny and it being shocking. Meanwhile Detective Bob sets out for Georgia to find the coke, though not before expressing his affection for his colleague Reba and giving her his dog for her to look after. They’re weird these scenes, as are many others; it feels like we’re supposed to find them amusing even though there are few or no jokes. A failed attempt at a Wes Anderson-style approach? In St. Louis, Syd sends his fixer Daveed to recover the remaining cocaine. Daveed travels to Georgia with Eddie, Syd’s son, who’s grown depressed following the death of his wife and has abandoned his son. At the same time, nurse Sari has a new boyfriend who’s not accepted by her young daughter Dee Dee. She wants to take her to a concert at the weekend with new boyfriend but Sari wants to paint a picture of the waterfalls in the forest, so she skips school with her best friend Henry and goes into the wilderness, with mon soon following.

There’s little rhythm to the way all these people and their side-stories are brought in; sometimes we’ll cut back and forth between two characters or two sets of characters several times before we then move on to a third. Do we blame Warden, Banks or editor Joel Negron whose work is often quite poor? It’s hard to say. Of course it doesn’t help that most of these people with their stock situations aren’t as interesting as the screenplay thinks they are, with the banter between sensitive crook Eddie and less sensitive crook Daveed being rather tiresome, and there not enough footage of the two kids who are genuinely fun to be around. Things pick up a bit with the eventual introduction of park ranger Liz, who thinks she’s hugely efficient and wears nice-smelling perfume [she’s wrong on both those counts], and Peter, a wildlife activist lusted after by Liz [though that particular subplot also goes nowhere]; the two are appealingly quirky. At Liz’s forest station, Daveed gets into a fight with the Duchamps gang, three local delinquents who cause trouble in the forest. This is a short but cracking melding of brutality and borderline slapstick which comes off so well one wonders why most of the rest of the film can’t hit that same tone. One of the gang members, Stache, takes Daveed and Eddie to recover some of the cocaine he stashed in a gazebo, and everyone else is looking for cocaine or people, with  Liz soon also roped into the action. But Cocaine Bear just can’t get enough of the marching powder which sometimes makes him act weird, like sliding along the ground, but which tends to usually just make him more ferocious, which is rather disappointing really to anyone who knows what cocaine can make you feel like and do.

Cocaine Bear flits from being very convincing indeed to looking pretty lousy, sometimes in the same scene which almost makes us feel like we’re watching two different creatures. Some far away shots of her running and jumping, all blurry and barely evoking any sense of gravity, are truly shoddy, but then there’s some really impressive, detailed CG work too, especially regarding her face which is given a lot of closeups. Was the budget just too low for quality rendering of Cocaine Bear all the way through? Then again, it’s not a serious film, with even nearly all of the bear scenes not carrying the charge of terror that you would expect, so I suppose this doesn’t matter too much. Towards the end some sympathy for the animal seems like it’s going to arise, but the film chickens out, just like it holds back in many other ways, and the none too thrilling climax takes place in murky half light. A scene involving the bear and an ambulance is enjoyably loony, but we needed more of this kind of stuff. Yes, body parts are thrown around, blood spatters and even some intestine ripping takes place courtesy of the bear, and then there’s also a lot of carnage involving firearms which seems to be played even more for laughs, from severed fingers which have to be picked up, to a variation of one of Pulp Fiction‘s most shocking and most funny moments which did, admittedly, have people in the audience at the screening which I attended laughing, but it has a rather feeble effect. Even worse, the editing [back to that again] sometimes literally steps on the “jokes”, quickly cutting to the next scene before the line has time to breathe, as if the film was actually embarrassed by said jokes. Well, that’s certainly understandable I suppose, though I also wonder if it was realised how much the humour was jarring with the violence, or maybe vice versa too, seeing as Banks apparently removed the grisliest set piece from the film, though a good balance was still not achieved.

The attitude to drugs is very flippant but then you’d probably expect that given the title. Henry and Dee Dee get a surprising scene where they both take some of the cocaine they find, with Henry boasting that he’s done it before and Dee Dee asking him to take it again, after which she follows. Young kids taking drugs is a rarity and perhaps rightly so, but I admire the guts displayed here, yet what’s frustrating here is that this plot point is yet something else which isn’t followed through; the two kids take the coke but then act normal apart from one moment. If you’re going to go all bonkers and tasteless then it’s best to just go with it – after all, this is a film with “cocaine” in the title! Despite some of the editing [there we go again], Cocaine Bear still manages to be visually appealing in places with cinematographer John Guleserian giving us lots of swopping shots of the lush locales. And the majority of the cast seem really game and do their best with the material, often visibly trying to make things that aren’t particularly funny funnier by their delivery and mannerisms. Banks seems to have asked most of her cast members to play it broadly, which does work for most of the time. Keri Russell is a bit of a boring heroine despite the urgency of her character’s quest to find her daughter and her daughter’s friend which oddly never gets as tense as it ought to, but Brooklynn Prince as Dee Dee and  Christian Convery as Henry have good interplay, and Margo Martindale’s park ranger is so wonderfully eccentric that she should have been in the film far more than she is, maybe even the most prominent character. Isaiah Whitlock Jr. is also great as Bob, pulling off some great reactions without hamming it up. Many of the best of the human sequences feature one of those two; Whitlock Jr. is especially good in a stand off with his character on a roof, able to find a way back down and acting all tough with crooks below. Saying that though, removing the gangsters from most or even all of the screenplay might have also been a good thing, as their entire story-arc felt wholly unnecessary to the proceedings and isn’t well written either, while Ray Liotta sadly looks he’s just phoning it in in his last screen appearance.

The basic problem with Cocaine Bear is that it’s nowhere near as wild and crazy as its title suggests that it should be, instead generally remaining rather pedestrian except for a few moments which teasingly suggest the movie that might have been. It does still certainly offer some fun and games, and certainly isn’t terrible, but generally feels like a missed opportunity.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

The Maximum Rampage edition Blu-ray contains a selection of special features, including an alternative ending to Cocaine Bear (which is a more fitting and comedic ending compared to the one used); a few extended and deleted scenes which add a bit more humour to the movie; All Roads Lead to Cokey: The Making of COCAINE BEAR – a 9-minute segment on the making of Cocaine Bear with behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast & director; Unbearable Bloodbath: Dissecting the Kills – an 8 minute segment showing how they filmed the bear attack scenes with the performance artist in place of Cokey the bear; Doing Lines – a 4 min featurette of the the cast and director read lines from the script set to clips of the movie; a gag reel, and audio commentary with director/producer Elizabeth Banks and producer Max Handelman.

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About Dr Lenera 1987 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

1 Comment

  1. Gotta agree with your review. I wanted more from it. Margo’s park ranger was the best thing in that movie and I’d have loved her to have taken the lead. That ambulance scene was hilarious. I only wish the rest of the film had kept up that energy. If you’re gonna go wacky, might as well go all the way! Unfortunately, Cocaine Bear seemed to shackle itself somewhat when all I wanted it to do was go wild.

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