Cocaine Bear (2023) Directed by Elizabeth Banks
There are silly movies and then there’s this. No matter how far it takes its unhinged b-movie standards, the schizoid ambitions of this schlocky feast of burlesque comedy and brainless horror fail to deliver what it promises with its ludicrous but commercially enticing title. A story about an innocent wild bear who becomes addicted to cocaine because of an accident involving boorish drug dealers is supposed to be self-explanatory and easy to pull off moviemaking-wise. However, Cocaine Bear overcomplicates itself with its frantic impulse to want to be a hyperbole of something already naturally over-the-top. Elizabeth Banks returns, ruefully, to take the directorial reins in yet another inept film production that seems to be her ultimate expression of her infertile behind-the-camera capabilities. The good news is that Cocaine Bear is toothless, momentarily entertaining and perennially absurd. The bad news is that none of the above is compelling enough to redeem Banks’ calamitous direction.
Even in the domain of trashy cinema there must be a certain coherence, be it superficial or profound; the nonsensical, even if it is not constrained by established conventions, must be filmed with an intelligibility. Here in Cocaine Bear, its protruding comic farce is fathomable, any idiot knows what kind of narrative architecture he is looking at, yet the visual layout of it is illegible. With hollow compositions and extraneous camera motions, Cocaine Bear’s ecstatic plot opens with a hyperactive, high-spirited drug dealer on a plane transporting many kilograms of cocaine. Predictably, the ineffectual drug dealer falls out of the plane as a result of a bump he took before parachuting out. Now the kilos of drugs worth millions of dollars are found in a national forest where an American black bear is tempted to try some of the white powder, thus becoming a rabid addict in search of more cocaine to satiate his compulsion by slaughtering any human who gets in its way. Ray Liotta plays Syd a drug kingpin who goes along with his son and one of his associates in search of that treasure trove of narcotics that belongs to him. On their way they run into Keri Russell, who plays a mother looking for her lost daughter in the woods where the drugged bear prowls.
This madcap journey through a myriad of humorous situations bordering on parody has specific occasions where its imbecility is so profuse and brazen that it ends up forming a pandemonium of far-fetched gore interspersed with an insubordinate use of CGI, which, in my perspective, is shockingly enjoyable. All in all, when Cocaine Bear attempts only to exploit its jarring comedy by having its ferocious behemoth mammal excel in front of the cameras unleashing hilarious mayhem on humans, it is nearly successful in its intentional b-movie format. Nevertheless, its ruinous hierarchical design makes this digital bear peripheral and gives infuriating preeminence to the human characters annihilating its best entertainment potential it has, or had.
Don’t get me wrong, I perceive perfectly well what the filmmakers’ goals are in deciding to make a film this lunatic; every quirky storytelling device that is put to hypertrophic and monotonous use is there to serve only one function, and that is, to ornament the story as implausible but rightfully amusing in its self-conscious, gross-out ridiculousness. Yet, I return to the same conjecture I’ve been elaborating on since the beginning, no matter how lucid the Cocaine Bear filmmakers’ conscious relationship to the passionate silliness they are filming, you still need certain rational guidelines to know how you want to bring such monumental silliness to the big screen. There is no excuse for a film with this straightforward and blatant premise to look so sterile and vacuous.