Cocaine is a helluva pic-a-nic basket!
Black bear. White powder. Black comedy.
When a drug runner dumps his airplane cargo of cocaine bricks over a Georgia forest, a black bear ingests some, and becomes as obsessed with finding more blow as Yogi Bear in his quest for pic-a-nic baskets. Only more junkie. As he finds more bricks and eats them, unlike Yogi, this CGI ferocity kills a lotta fools along the way.
Inspired by the 1985 true story of a black bear in the Chattahoochee National Forest that ingested over 40 kilos of illegal dumped cocaine and died, COCAINE BEAR is fanciful storytelling from the moment the bear continued to live after eating the bricks of cocaine. The real-life smugglers dumped the shipment over Tennessee, the bear was found dead in Georgia (one state south), and its body is mounted in a mall in Kentucky (two states north).
Seeing these three actors thrown together, my mind went meta for a minute:
RAY LIOTTA died of heart failure in May 2022. He was 67. This is one of three movies released after his untimely death… dare I say, his Heart Will Go On in COCAINE BEAR? (But not his intestines—ooowwWW!)
ALDEN EHRENREICH was dealt an unfortunate hand trying to be young Harrison Ford in 2018 (SOLO), and almost disappeared into TV world before blasting back with this absurdist comedy and in Nolan’s lauded OPPENHEIMER in the same year.
O’SHEA JACKSON JR burst into cinema with his meticulous portrayal of Ice Cube in 2015’s STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, and it’s nice to see he wasn’t typecast as a thug, branching into many diverse roles over the years. Not bad for Cube’s nepo baby.
Around this tale of thugs pursuing their missing cocaine, a gaggle of other characters are thrown in, for improbable stories and gory deaths.
Improbable Story #1: Keri Russell is a mother searching for her pre-teen daughter (Brooklynn Prince), who has run off to “paint a waterfall” (whatever that means). When she finds the little boy her daughter was with (Christian Convery), the fact that she never keeps asking him constantly: “WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?!” drops us out of the story on our heads. (And Keri Russell is so far above the rest of the cast in stunning movie-star looks, she seems miscast as a frazzled mother. With that pearbottom, it’s a tough sell.)
I am so far removed from American pre-teens, I have no idea if Prince and Convery are doing any kind of authentic justice to this pre-teen portrayal at all! American cinema only has one “type” for pre-teens – this fucking precocious and annoying type. With way too much foresight into adulthood (the young girl knowing her mother is taking extra shifts to flirt with another employee; the boy knowing he’s going to be affected by witnessing the bear killing, “It’s the type of thing that stays with a man”). This is not how kids talk. This is how kids in movies talk.
Improbable Story #2: Jackson is accosted by three young thugs (led by Aaron Holliday), after which he enlists one of them to lead him to a stash of coke. Holliday plays his thug as a jovial, likeable guy who bonds with Ehrenreich’s character along the hike, even though he is a leechy thief. By the time the bear appears, we viewers are being asked to forgive this prick his past indecencies. Nope.
Ehrenreich is flat on the ground, face-down, and the bear passes out on top of him, its body in the same position as his, although being bigger, it covers him completely. I belabor describing this position because we get this stupid joke: “its vagina is on my ear.” Unless the bear’s anatomy is unlike any mammal on Earth, its vagina should be down near HIS vagina. Who knows – maybe the CGI guys were meant to render the bear in a different position?
Then the bear gets ahold of Ehrenreich, bear-hugging him and pawing him. It’s meant to be in the throes of another brick of coke, but even if it’s not being malignant, its claws alone in the proximity of delicate human flesh would leave such gashes… Any injuries? Nope. While two other guys with guns stand around NOT shooting the bear.
Yes, it’s a dark and gory comedy, and we’re not meant to take any of this seriously, but still, be consistent within the world you are creating.
Other characters on the menu: a detective on the trail of Liotta (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a park ranger (Margo Martindale) and her beau (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), ambulance drivers (Kahyun Kim and Scott Seiss).
I’ve over-emphasized its demerits, but COCAINE BEAR is an entertaining diversion, bucking convention in many ways (likeable characters get killed, and others are killed without cause or arc), while it sticks to convention in other ways (i.e. NO WAY the two kids are getting killed; neither was the blameless animal going to be harmed – by either humans or the coke – as it lives on to bump another day).
Full marks to director Elizabeth Banks! Firstly, for even tackling this insane-on-paper project (written by Jimmy Warden), and then for pulling off the balancing act of comedy-tragedy-thriller. I don’t know her personally, but I’m proud of her! I feel this sense of seeing her grow (reminiscing on her funny fluff role in 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) into this writing/acting/directing force in movies steadily gaining power, whilst never actually “breaking out” with any one overblown project. Kinda like Clint Eastwood, plugging away in the background on the job of making movies, until one day – respected as an icon of American Cinema. Banks’s two previous directorial efforts were PITCH PERFECT 2 and CHARLIES ANGELS 2019 (in which she cast herself in minor roles). With COCAINE BEAR, she is not onscreen, although she still far out-stuns even Keri Russell in the looks department.
She’s a powerful women’s advocate, an ambitious filmmaker, and a cutie to boot. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’d like to have her vagina on my ear.