Going to see “Cocaine Bear,” you get exactly what you were hoping for: 90 minutes of off-the-rails chaos. Was it a great movie? No, but it was so bad that it became good. “Cocaine Bear” is pure entertainment, and I admire that it doesn’t try to be anything else.
“Cocaine Bear” is an ensemble comedy about a bear on cocaine. Based on a true story, the film follows various threads. Sari (Keri Russell) is a mother searching for her young daughter Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince), who skipped school with her friend Henry (Christian Convery). Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) are two drug dealers trying to recover the cocaine for Eddie’s father. Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) is busy flirting with wildlife protector Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), while cops Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Reba (Ayoola Smart) look for the dealers.
In many ways, “Cocaine Bear” feels like a manufactured cult classic. Director Elizabeth Banks purposely tries to recreate films famous for their failure, like “Sharknado.” At the same time, “Cocaine Bear” could be a meta-comedy, mocking ridiculous horror comedies by being an even more ridiculous horror-comedy.
The film doesn’t try to establish itself with one identity or the other; instead, Banks lets viewers decide for themselves. She leverages the ambiguity — like with her over-the-top, non-realistic gore — to cater to both audiences.
This is surely not a plot-driven movie. It follows too many stories for any of them to seem like a focal point. Instead, it reads more like a skit collection, all unified by the central theme of a cocaine bear. Sharp, slightly illogical transitions — like when Ranger Liz walks away from the bear attack and quickly ends up at the park shop — further isolate individual scenes rather than pulling them together. I didn’t mind this fragmented style at all: it kept the film moving, and I think audiences should not be expecting high-level storytelling from a movie called “Cocaine Bear.”
While some moments had me howling in laughter, others seemed a bit forced. The opening scene, when cocaine is being tossed out of a plane, was hilarious with its abrupt, tragic end. The ambulance scene was epic, with the poor Ranger Liz suffering from injury after injury as the bear chases the ambulance.
These highs were contrasted with comedic lows, like the painfully long exchange between Ranger Liz and a local teenage troublemaker, who keeps complimenting her perfume. In another hollow bit, Eddie cries about being tattooed with the name “John” when he had been trying to get one that says “Joan” to commemorate his dead wife.
These scenes told me that as entertaining as cocaine bear was, it could have been even better. Yet, these disappointing moment’s had minimal negative impact because the skit-like format of the movie kept these bits very discrete.
The film’s performances were generally passable but slightly disappointing, especially given such an all-star cast. However, the farce threads running throughout the movies make me wonder if the caricature tone was intended. For example, in Daveed and Eddie’s arc, the actors portray a clearly overblown reunification, with the two dealers going from coworkers to practically brothers over the course of their journey. Even if the exaggerated acting strategy was purposely employed, I do think that some of the performances could have been slightly more compelling.
One performer did stand out for his iconic portrayal: Convery as Henry. His timing was incredible, and he delivered refreshing doses of innocence in the horror-comedy. At one point, Henry claims he does cocaine all the time, his face perfectly capturing the nervousness of a kid who wants to seem cool. His ignorance is exposed throughout the bit, as he says that one takes cocaine by eating it — he then gags as he takes a big spoonful of drugs.
Henry’s hilarious naivete put me in stitches again in a scene when he sees two bear cubs covered in cocaine. Henry says they look like “polar bears” from all of the white powder.
“Cocaine Bear” won’t be winning any Oscars, but it was fresh, funny and entertaining. It does exactly what it needs to and nothing more, but that’s okay. I have no doubt the film will establish itself as a classic late-night comedy standard, and it is the perfect mindless escape for Stanford students looking for a study break over the next few weeks.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.