What an incredible idea on paper. What a disastrous run of form in practice. Cocaine Bear was never going to work. It is too sleek a project and expectations were for a scenery-chewing bit of high-octane, barely realistic action. What could have been. All the parts are there. Bears. Cocaine. Elizabeth Banks in the directing chair. A strange trio, a fundamentally problematic and wildcard trilogy of items that could have come together and offered a relentlessly fun experience. Cocaine Bear is anything but. A film of moments can only be that, apparitions of good ideas that fade as fast as they come. But Cocaine Bear and the moments it has are not all that anyway.
Ironic for a film holding itself to task with an acerbic focus on its titular pairing, drumming up big moments around the two and failing to make it in any way artistically versatile. Instead, a series of dull kills and flaky plot elements piece together the reasons a bear and cocaine would come together. Obviously, some liberties are taken, and rightly so. Even with that though, Banks does not push far enough and instead gets focused up on her human interactions. She attempts to offer backstories and peaceful serenity to the people set to be munched up by a nutcase bear high on a bag of Colombian marching powder. It is difficult to care for such flat characters, and it is even harder to feel horrified by their grizzly deaths when it feels inevitable and predictable.
Territorial troubles for the black bear parading through the forests are shot with quite a detached feel. Gory glory this is not. As it turns out, Cocaine Bear is just that. It has nothing else to offer. Banks utilises the infamous anti-drug campaign of the 1980s and tries to find a link, some common ground, between a bear snuffling a bag of blow, the modern-day equivalents of the anti-drug crusade and a bear wrecking the surrounding area. Sloppy, to say the least. Even if it does mark the appearances of Ray Liotta and Isiah Whitlock Jr. They are there for the sake of exposition and background. They are removed from much of the action, which is dull and not particularly well-shot. Nor is it entertaining, Banks’ usual flavour of drawing that line between humorous and handy for the sake of the narrative is lost here.
Where the legacy of Andrew C Thornton II will always be remembered for his dumb and horrifying death, the cocaine he smuggled and the sparks of rage he caused, Cocaine Bear does little to show the impact. Considerably lifeless considering all the cocaine in that bear’s system, Cocaine Bear does little for its characters, who are inevitably set for happy endings, just desserts and mindless carnage. Murderous bears have all the potential for this Keri Russell-led feature but lacking in inspiration for the violence and a narrative strand to hold it all together, Cocaine Bear plays up all the stereotypes and hopes for a blockbuster. That is what it gets, but it receives a cold and empty one that feels charmless, shuffling its deck of TV set scenarios and character interactions, its forest scenery mere filler for the rest of the lacking, record-scratch moments that rely on its 80s backdrop. Even with its fictitious potential, Cocaine Bear plays it pathetically safe and tiresome.