Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear could have been a simple cult classic
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Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear could have been a simple cult classic

A drug heist goes wrong, and a bear does cocaine. Based loosely on a true story, this simple premise could lead to tons of campy humor and brutal action. Unfortunately, Cocaine Bear fails to deliver on what could have been the next Anaconda or Lake Placid. Written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Banks, Cocaine Bear is about a bear getting high with deadly consequences. Two kids — portrayed by Brooklyn Prince and Christian Convery — encounter the bear and must be saved by single-mom Sari (Keri Russell), a park ranger (Margot Martindale), and an animal expert (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Meanwhile, the man behind this failed drug heist (Ray Liotta) sends his grieving son (Alden Ehrenreich) and his best friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to retrieve all the drugs they can.

Cocaine Bear has a lot of moving parts. Warden took a simple premise and overcomplicated things with too many subplots and characters. Anyone familiar with the true story knows there is not much to it, making the movie’s excessive nature all the more confounding.

Russell’s storyline feels particularly unnecessary. Children entering into a cocaine-fueled scenario could be quite funny, but the humor falls flat. Warden and Banks seem unwilling to commit to exploring the irreverent humor that could come from a situation like this. The script struggles to endear the kids or Sari to audiences. The storyline adds very little to Cocaine Bear. The film fails to give Russell the badass moment she deserves.

The “bad boys” also overstay their welcome. Instead of treating these goofballs as a one-and-done joke, Warden and Banks make them a central part of the plot. Sadly, it’s difficult for the audience to invest in these one-dimensional characters, and the jokes feel unoriginal and tired.

Jackson and Ehrenreich’s chemistry shines in Cocaine Bear. It’s easy to believe that these two are friends, with Jackson bringing a solid straight-man performance while Ehrenreich brings a charming innocence to his role. In a less complicated film, the heart of the movie would be their endearing friendship.

As is, there are far too many subplots in Cocaine Bear — with most of the scenes feeling like Saturday Night Live sketches. With so much going on, the audience can’t enjoy Jackson and Enrenrich’s dynamic to the fullest. Even Whitlock folds into their story organically and delivers an endearing comedic performance. It’s a shame these three actors get lost in this jumbled mess of the crowded ensemble.

The action of Cocaine Bear is as unimpressive as the script. Banks and Warden seem to prioritize easy laughs instead of thinking through the actual consequences of a bear on cocaine. One moment, she’s a deadly menace, and the next, she’s a bumbling fool. There’s a lack of consistency in the threat the bear poses, which takes away from the film’s tension.

This is not to say that Cocaine Bear shouldn’t be wild. On the contrary, the movie is at its best when it embraces its absurdity. Unfortunately, Cocaine Bear does not do this often enough. While there are stand-out moments — the ambulance scene proves Cocaine Bear has the potential to go full camp — these are few and far between. The titular bear is almost always entertaining, but the movie tends to focus more on the people.

None of the bear’s kills feel believable. Fans are left longing for more practical effects as opposed to CGI, which takes away the grit and brutality Cocaine Bear needs.

Cocaine Bear tries too hard to be a cult classic. In doing so, it misses out on most of the elements that should have made this a fun night at the movies. Perhaps seeing this at home with a group of rowdy friends would improve Cocaine Bear, but as it stands, the movie complicated what should have been an easy win with a bloated, convenient script, which neglects its biggest draw — the bear.

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