Cocaine Bear wonderfully avoids the same problems that plagued Snakes on a Plane back in 2006 with the first one being that it was filmed and intended to be an R-rated movie, rather than reshoots added in post-production to make it that way which affected SOAP. And the plot is so absurd that even if it was based on a real story, a lot has been lost in translation and we’re not expecting a Dateline NBC episode.
The bare bones (no pun intended) of the story was that a smuggler named Andrew Thornton had tossed cocaine bundles outside a plane over the Appalachian Mountains before falling to his death in Knoxville on Sept. 11, 1985 (what a crazy date?!) because he had too many cocaine bundles on his person when he tried to parachute it weighed him down. The bear was found dead in Fannin County, Ga., just south of the Tennessee border in December of 1985 reportedly having overdosed on cocaine it found. Nothing was found but bones and its hide but a necropsy concluded it had consumed three or four grams of cocaine.
While that is an outrageous story, it could barely be stretched out into a feature movie but maybe a clip of Unsolved Mysteries. Thornton (Matthew Rhys) is seen at the beginning tossing the bundles out but he accidentally knocks himself out on the top of the doorframe while jumping out of the plane. The bundles land in the fictional area of Chattahoochee, Ga. (There’s a Chattahoochee River and a Chattathoochee County, along the south central Alabama border.) There is a Chattahooche-Oconee National Forest which I presume is the setting, even though surprisingly, most of the movie is filmed in Ireland even though the Georgia Film Commissionis mentioned in the credits, probably for establishing shots.
St. Louis drug kingpin Syd White (Ray Liotta doing his usual Ray Liotta role in a fitting posthumous role) sends his grieving son, Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), and fixer, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), to Georgia to track down the bundles. But the word gets to Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a Knoxville area detective, who has been going after Syd, that they’re heading down to Georgia, so he rides down there himself to see if he can find the bundles for a bust.
At the forest, two tweens, Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery), decide to skip school one day to go into the forest to look at the waterfalls. (Hey, it was the 1980s. Why not spend as much time out as you can as a latchkey Gen Xer.) They come across one of the cocaine bundles before coming across the bear that had previously attacked a Scandanavian couple who were hiking. Dee Dee’s mother, Sari (Keri Russell), finds out they’re heading to the forest and goes there to seek help from Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) who is trying to woo Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), a wildlife activist who has stopped by.
Eventually, all these people and a trio of hooligans in their late teens or early 20s all come into contact with the bear at one or more points throughout the movie becoming mauled or running from the bear frantically. But what director Elizabeth Banks does that’s impressive is she never loses track of the absurdity of the whole movie. Even though it’s set in 1985, Banks doesn’t saturate the movie too much with 1980s nostalgia other filmmakers might have. (The fact that no one has a cell phone so we don’t have to see the obligatory trope of people trying to get service is a welcome.) Sari wears a pink jumpsuit that almost every other woman her age give or take five years had during the time. There’s some music on the soundtrack but it’s not diluted the way other directors would. Syd looks like what one would think a drug crime boss in St. Louis 1985 would look like.
While the movie is very violent and some characters meet unfortunate bloody ends, the bear is really never seen as the villain. And since the bear is mostly CGI and looks fake, you laugh at the absurdity of a bear ripping someone’s limb off. (The movie even has a quote attributed to Wikipedia at the beginning.) Syd is the villain and so are the hooligans who get their comeuppence. Banks along with writer Jimmy Warden manage to make a movie that is also a great ode to the “When Nature Attacks” movies that came out following Jaws in the late 1970s and early 1980s. You can’t not think of the 1976 schlock movie Grizzly which was film just north of the Atlanta metro area.
The whole subplot of Eddie grieving never really makes much sense. And there’s too many characters at time you might find yourself wondering where the bear is and then it just pops up because the plot makes it convention. Martindale is a delight as the ranger. The cameo of Scott Seis, the comedian and TikToker, as one of the medics is a nice addition. Some adults and parantal groups may not like the scene where Dee Dee and Henry sample some of the cocaine, but they immediately regret it, so it doesn’t endorse the use of cocaine.
We’re not talking about The Silence of the Lambs or even Jaws itself. This is one of those silly movies like Deep Blue Sea where you don’t even have to consider the science of the plot because it’s just about an hour and a half of silliness. I think some of the negative reviews were from people who were expecting more since the trailer first dropped in the Fall of 2022. Banks doesn’t have to worry about finding an Oscar spot on her mantle and I think that’s a good thing. Sometimes, people just need mindless entertainment and escapism for just a couple of hours. And Cocaine Bear provides that.
What do you think? Please comment.