Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

It would be easy to write a review about Cocaine Bear that comes to little more than “wow, this film is wacky!” That’s certainly what the marketing team wanted people to think, and the fact that the whole film rests on a conflict between a bear and a mob-boss does lend it to that sort of absurd reception. The problem is that, for how ridiculous the premise is, Cocaine Bear is actually quite boring.

“Banks skirts around these fun premises with ham-fisted conversations about friendship, loyalty and family. [She's] afraid of it just being a silly mid-budget B-movie”

It is loosely based on the true story of a bear who ate a lot of cocaine. This Pablo Esco-bear (sorry, couldn’t resist) died before it could get into any bear-cocaine hijinks, but Elizabeth Banks’ reimagining of the story asks the question I guess we were all thinking: what if it didn’t die? And what if Ray Lotta was there?

The film has three main plots with a rag-tag ensemble cast. We follow a mother who searches for her daughter who has disappeared into the woods, seemingly kidnapped by the bear. Next up, a criminal gang, searching for their cocaine who are forced to challenge the (now drug-addicted) bear to get their coke back. The last story unleashes Ranger Liz, a woman driven by two things: destroying a group of teenagers who rob her store and shooting the cocaine bear.

What a fun and ridiculous plot. I’m sure you’re asking ‘how the hell could this be boring?’ Well, there’s a big problem with all of these plots... everyone’s embarrassed of it being ridiculous. Banks skirts around these fun premises with ham-fisted conversations about friendship, loyalty and family. They’re afraid of it just being a silly mid-budget B-movie.

For a film called Cocaine Bear to work, you have to know and love what you’re making. It’s never going to be Citizen Kane and it’s never going to reframe the way its audience thinks about their mothers. The cult-classic B-movies people love—Female Trouble, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and ninety percent of Nick Cage’s work—are beloved because the cast and crew revel in the anarchy and ridiculousness of the project.

“Personally, when I pay for a ticket to see a film called Cocaine Bear I don’t want to be lectured on family values”

The only part of the film that actually fits the bill is Ranger Liz. Margo Martindale is a comedic powerhouse and has never been scared to put her all into a B-movie. As Ranger Liz, she is loud, aggressive, and hilarious, performing without the embarrassed affect her co-stars adopt. She is a joy to watch on screen and the only stand-out character in the film. Martindale feels like the only part of the film that is un-embarrased by its content, she’s the only one who unequivocally commits.

Scenes without Ranger Liz are just flat. CGI bears are expensive, so it doesn’t show up all that much and leaves the audience with, well, nothing! It becomes clear that Banks does not know what to do with her characters so they just aimlessly wander around. The big portions of dead space in the movie are especially disappointing when we are given brief glimpses of a hilarious exploitation movie. The best scene in the film is arguably a chase between an open ambulance and the bear. It’s amazingly well executed but it is sandwiched between scenes of a police officer walking around and two other characters who are… you guessed it… also walking around.


Mountain View

Revitalising the British romcom with Rye Lane

This ‘what could have been’ factor lets down Cocaine Bear. There are so many moments where the film almost strikes gold and gestures to an incredible blood-and-guts B-movie, but the next scene is just two guys playing twenty questions. If you’re making a film called Cocaine Bear, you cannot be shy about it. You can’t, as Banks tries to do, turn it into a film about parenthood. There are homages to exploitation B-movies littered throughout the film but it never really embraces its roots itself, never fully commits to the insanity that the genre requires. Personally, when I pay for a ticket to see a film called Cocaine Bear I don’t want to be lectured on family values, I want to see a damn bear do some cocaine!