Film Writer Alice Weltermann finds Cocaine Bear to be fun but forgettable
Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear is a Class A film that will leave you saying, “That’s cinema, baby!”.
Its premise is simple. The ‘Cocaine’ half of its title comes about when conspicuous bags of cocaine are dropped from a crashing plane for a local gang to find, headed by boss Syd White (Ray Liotta). But before they can find it, the ‘Bear’ half gets into the stash, becomes addicted, and goes on a killing spree: a slasher of coincidence ensues.
Loosely based on a true story, the film’s inspiration became something of an urban myth, dubbed ‘Pablo Escobear’. The film’s real-life counterpart, though, unfortunately, died within 20 minutes of doing the cocaine. Cocaine Bear breathes 90 minutes into a story that only takes 2 minutes to tell, fleshing it out into a ridiculous spectacle: indeed, it is ridiculous by nature, and that is what makes it worth watching. But as well as that, Cocaine Bear questions the wider impact of drug trafficking on innocent animals and children, positioning its true villain not as the ‘Escobear’ but as the greedy humans surrounding her.
Cocaine Bear indulges in a mid-80s nostalgia, reminiscent of Stranger Things, which serves it well. Drawing on 1980s thrillers, the film’s fast pace and kitschy narrative pack both a comedic and a violent punch. The decision to follow a Goonies-like plot for the core family trio, though, doesn’t really fit in with the film’s wider aesthetic. This story, led by Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery), sparks the film’s action when Dee Dee’s mother Sari (Keri Russell) goes in search of the children, one of whom has been kidnapped by the Bear. This plot, however, is at its best when pushed to the side. It is quickly overshadowed by more memorable figures: Margot Martindale as Ranger Liz and Isaiah Whitlock Jr. as Detective Bob offer expert performances that perfectly complement the inherent absurdity of this film.
Amongst some questionable acting from other cast members, seasoned actors Martindale and Liotta steal the show, fighting for memorability only with a 10-minute scene involving an ambulance (perhaps a perfect scene). This scene and others have already been likened to the works of Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-man) for having the same unseriousness- Cocaine Bear has a great time doing what it’s doing, successfully remaining in on its own joke for most of the film. Most of the film’s humour lands, although its script by Jimmy Warden is mediocre, with most comedy ensuing from visual silliness. This humour underpins the film’s violence well, only clashing with its random moments of attempted sincerity in which both jokes and the message become a little cringeworthy.
But there is still a message to be found: everything goes wrong because humans have invaded a natural space. So humans become the true villains of Cocaine Bear, who herself becomes a sanctified girl-boss as a single mother defending her turf. The fact that she is a female bear interestingly places her in the ‘good for her’ universe that can be seen floating around on Twitter, made up of characters such as Gone Girl’s Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Midsommars’ Dani (Florence Pugh). These women transgress and break laws, but aren’t necessarily condemned for it- in fact, they are idolised for it. Their arguable insanity is framed as an appropriate reaction to the confused, patriarchal world around them. Similarly, it isn’t Cocaine Bear’s fault that she finds White’s cocaine, nor that humans constantly stumble along her path. More than anything, she is a victim, able to violently reclaim her turf (by being a bear). So, Cocaine Bear the girl-boss also escapes punishment, instead living out a long and happy cocaine-filled life.
Cocaine Bear is inoffensive, providing some solid entertainment. It’s a film you can have fun with and then forget about. Although the film (even just in its title) is begging to be talked about and made into a meme, it doesn’t have any specific impact, nor is it saying anything especially memorable or unique. Perhaps, in her girl-boss fit for a zoo, Banks is calling for more women to start viciously murdering, or at the very least, she wants us to start doing cocaine.
Cocaine Bear is in cinemas now.
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