There's No Taking Down This Bear
Let's be honest: Cocaine Bear sounds like the name of a film made on a dare. "A bear that gets hopped on cocaine and then starts killing people," sounds like the kind of film Roger Corman would make. It's a simple premise, one that you can easily boil down to literally just a title, and you know there are droves of stoner guys that would show up just to watch a dumb film about a bear on cocaine. It seems like the kind of film that you don't even have to advertise. "Huh, a bear on cocaine. A Cocaine Bear. Well, okay. I'll take one ticket, please." Done and done.
And, you know what? The film delivers on exactly its promise. You want a bear coked out of its mind? We have that here, in Cocaine Bear. For anyone looking for exactly this premise, and nothing more, you get exactly what you pay for. It's glorious cheese which doesn't try to be anything more than what's promised in the title. People show up, a bear arrives, the bear has had cocaine, the people die. It's like Jaws if the shark were hopped up on high-grade Colombian narcotics.
The film begins, very quickly, setting the whole story in motion. A drug smuggler, Andrew Thornton (Matthew Rhys), unloads his plane full of duffel bags of coke over the Tennessee wilderness before attempting to parachute out. Instead, he knocks himself unconscious and falls to his death before his lane crashes. But the drugs are out there, in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest, where they're found by a black bear. She eats the drugs and gets absolutely wild. She wants more, but she also wants to kill anything she sees. She's a bear on a mission, and that mission is watching the world burn.
Meanwhile, young Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) wants nothing more than to go to the "Secret Waterfall" in the national forest so she can paint beside it. Her mother, Sari (Keri Russell), but Sari now wants to spend the weekend with her new boyfriend, and Dee Dee as well, in Memphis instead. So Dee Dee grabs her best friend, Henry (Christian Convery), and they ditch school to see the Secret Waterfall. And while this is going on, Daveed (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), working for the drug smugglers, head to the forest to try and find the duffels. They're going to have to deal with Detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), also there on the case of the drugs, hoping to catch the smugglers in the act. All of them will find themselves drawn together as a crazed bear is on the loose, looking for drugs and ready to kill anyone that gets in its way. It's the cocaine bear, and it takes no prisoners.
To be clear, this film is silly. This film knows it's silly and it doesn't even try to pretend otherwise. From the opening scene, when Rhys's Thornton knocks himself out while jumping from the plane, the film presents a heightened, very silly story, mining solid laughs as the film goes along. It's not a parody, per se, but it does very much feel like it's created a film in the vein of Jaws, just with everyone cracking wise as death and pain happen around them. As serious as a crazed bear would be, the film manages to play it all for laughs.
In some ways, the Jaws comparison doesn't really do the film justice. While it does feature an animal on the loose, killing people, this film has more in common with the madcap ensemble comedies of yore. It you made a film like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World but added in a bear on drugs killing people, that's the vibe you'd get from Cocaine Bear. Also note, I'd absolutely watch It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World featuring Cocaine Bear.
It is a black comedy, make no mistake. For all the silly situations set up and the snappy dialogue uttered, this is still a film where a bear goes around killing people. Even then, though, it all feels properly campy and silly. Every death acts like the punctuation to a joke, with no moment of levity spared even as the bodies are torn apart and the blood sprays. I actually think a good blood spray can be funny (see the Evil DeadStarted as a horror cheapie to get the foot in the door for three aspiring filmmakers -- Raimi, Tappert, and Campbell -- Evil Dead grew to have a life of its own, as well as launching the "splatstick" genre of horror-comedy. series for blood and gore done hilariously right) and this film clearly belongs to that same camp. The gore is here to accent the humor and raise the level of pitch black comedy for the film.
Of course, that does mean that most of the characters in the film are simple fodder for the bear. There is a large, diverse cast in the film, with plenty more side characters than I even had time to list. All of them die. That's not a spoiler, that's just Jaws logic. Only a few people are getting out of this film alive but most everyone else that's introduced will be dead by the time the credits roll. The film boasts a body count to make some horror films blush, and that works for the way the film pursues its story.
It does feel like, in different hands, this film could easily have been a horror film. If you toned down the sarcastic banter and added more realism to the action, this would be a grim-dark horror film about the dangers of going into the forest. But that's what's brilliant about this film: it knows that we've already gotten plenty of animal attack films that play the horror pretty straight. Instead, the film decides to go hard on the dark comedy, creating a film with a better vibe than if it had gone the horror route.
Which isn't to say this film is for everyone, mind you. There is still plenty of gore and dismemberment to be had. Much of it is CGI gore, sure (just like with the CGI bear at the center of this film), but for some fake gore is still too much gore. If you're squeamish in any way, this film does have enough viscera flying around throughout its run that you'd probably not enjoy the film, and that's fair. A film like this isn't meant for everyone and I absolutely wouldn't want to push it on someone not prepared for this kind of dark comedy.
But for everyone else, this is an absolute blast of a stupid, late-night, stoner film. It is dumb, and silly, and very over-the-top. It's a strange and hilarious movie about a bear that gets into a shitload of cocaine (based on a true story, no less, although just the part about a bear on drugs). If the title of the film made you at all curious then, no doubt, Cocaine Bear is for you.