Cocaine Bear (2023) – Reel Review

Director: Elizabeth Banks | Runtime: 1h 35mins | Comedy, Action

After a drug run goes wrong, leaving copious amounts of cocaine scattered across a park in Georgia, a number of people come face to face with a black bear that accidentally ingests the cocaine.

If the punchy title of Elizabeth Banks’ newest film didn’t give away the fact that it doesn’t take itself seriously, then likely the misinformed Wikipedia quote at the beginning will. It sets the tone of this wild and self-aware comedy, knowingly offering us absurdity that at first you may scoff at or shrug, but eventually you find yourself tantalised by what this drug-fuelled apex predator will do next. 

Loosely based on a true story, in which a bear was found dead in a national park after ingesting too much cocaine, Banks fills the gaps liberally to give us a hit of pure entertainment. The opening scene of the film is two hikers spotting the bear from afar, as the bear headbutts and scratches against trees, until it spots them – leading to a grizzly end. From there, outside of the lacklustre characters that hold no real importance, the film effectively goes from scene to scene trying to one up its own violence and humour.  

Banks has never been groundbreaking sitting in the director’s chair, but one thing she has always done is understand how to wink at the camera. It made her a household name as an actress in modern comedy and it’s something she has implemented into her films (albeit less successfully) but in Cocaine Bear it really seems she’s having fun. Not just her though, the cast seem to be unphased by the barbarity of the film they are in, but rather relishing the fact they can be playful with their roles. 

Keri Russell plays a mother on a quest to save her daughter, Margot Martindale chews the fat in every scene she’s in as the useless park ranger and Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr. find little moments of chemistry as drug running best friends. But, the characters feel slightly auto-generated, adding very little substance to a film whose only concern is trying to capture as much chaos as humanly possible.

There are a lot of moments when Cocaine Bear falls into flavourless territory, unable to keep up with the rampage the beast is on. But, the film manages to keep you engaged with its pop soundtrack and odd humour – while also being unapologetic about the fact this is basically an elevated B-Movie.

There are two schools of thought with this film, cynics will see it as a toneless and shallow comedy that really doesn’t exist outside of its furry action. But – as an optimist – you’ll hopefully see it as a self-aware comedy that never once takes itself seriously, knowing exactly why people are watching a film called “Cocaine Bear” in the first place.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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