“Cocaine Bear” is a movie that’s equal parts madness and mediocrity. Director Elizabeth Banks takes a premise that’s almost too ridiculous to be true – a bear getting high on cocaine – and tries to turn it into a high-concept comedy. But while the film promises a wild ride of off-the-wall humor and gore, it ultimately fails to deliver.
The movie follows a multi-narrative ensemble, all tied together by a lurking ursine enemy. There’s teenaged Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery) who skip school to explore the woods, drug kingpin Syd (the late Ray Liotta) who sends his son and a fixer to hunt for the missing drugs, and law enforcement hot on their heels. There are also nature tourists, woodland hooligans, and Margo Martindale as a park ranger trying to get her rocks off with an animal rights activist (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).
The problem with “Cocaine Bear” is that it lacks the courage to be truly transgressive. While the bear’s consumption habits provide ample opportunity for outrageous comedy, the film plays it exceedingly safe, leaving the edgiest joke in the movie to be a bit of lifted information from Wikipedia.
Banks models the bear’s presence in the movie after the shark from “Jaws,” often lurking off-screen to build suspense. But the extensive VFX team working to animate the creature doesn’t shy away from showing it, leading to an inconsistent atmosphere of suspense. Past a certain point, the movie devolves almost into a slasher film that relishes in the maiming of human flesh.
The film suffers from a lack of cohesion between its converging storylines, leaving it feeling more inconsistent than anything else. While Alden Ehrenreich delivers a committed performance, other actors feel timid saying their lines, as if they’re afraid to look foolish.
In the end, “Cocaine Bear” fails to live up to its high-concept premise. It lacks the energy and audacity of a proper drugs’ movie with none of the transgression or subversion that the subject matter deserves. While there are moments of glorious anarchy and hilarity, they’re too few and far between to justify sitting through the rest of the film.