Cocaine Bear lays its cards on the table immediately. The film opens with on screen text about bear attacks only to then cite these facts to Wikipedia. The clear sense of silliness and awareness that the entire movie is a joke from the start makes it a joy from those first moments.
It’s a movie about a bear that does cocaine and then kills a bunch of people. It doesn’t need to be, shouldn’t be, and thankfully isn’t serious at any point in its (also thankfully) brief runtime. What’s surprising, though, is that despite the ridiculousness of the premise and the “isn’t this silly?” tone, the film somehow manages to make us care about many of its characters. I was shocked to find myself genuinely saddened by multiple characters’ deaths over the course of the bear’s rampage.
Even more shocking is that this movie about a bear on cocaine has such a large ensemble of human characters and that that large ensemble is a strength instead of a defect. Early on, the movie introduces us to its various characters in various locations (with increasingly specific on-screen text) before they converge on the Chattahoochee Forest in northern Georgia where the titular cocaine bear roams. These characters are played by recognizable and charming actors which makes spending time with them fun, but the real strength of the ensemble and multiple plots is that it allows the film to move through its plot points at breakneck pace.
Whether we’re with the children who’ve come to the park to do some graffiti, the drug dealers looking to get their goods back, or the parents and police on those groups’ tails, Cocaine Bear keeps things moving along at such a clip that we are never far from a bear attack. In fact, the multiple plotlines help with what is often the largest problem in creature features: not enough of the creature. Because we are following at least four different plots for most of the film, we’re able to drop in on the human stories only at the most important (read: cocaine bear-featuring) moments of those plots without losing any sense of narrative momentum or slowing the film’s pace to a crawl.
There are of course some scenes without the bear, but those offer us time with the cast who are all perfectly in step with the film’s tone. There’s a lot of quibbling and bantering that is at the very least chuckle-worthy, and, perhaps surprisingly, there are guffaw-inducing line reads in scenes with the less-recognizable-than-their-costars Aaron Holliday and Christian Convery
Scenes with the bear also vary in quality, not in regards to humor, but visually. The bear is entirely computer generated and is very well integrated into the world around it, but some scenes of gore look a little too clean and digital. But even then the filmmakers seem to have been somewhat aware of that limitation and go for maximum visual impact (in the form of limbs flying through the air and blood-covered guts being strewn about) instead of anatomical detail.
Perhaps most frustrating though is the distracting use of trap beats in the score. For the most part, Cocaine Bear is scored to the sounds and specific songs of its 1985 period, from bright synths to thrash metal. But one scene introduces some rapid hi-hats and thumping bass that has no place in the sonic world of the film.
Cocaine Bear feels like what Scorsese said about comic book movies: it’s a movie that feels more like a rollercoaster than cinema. But that’s entirely a compliment. The movie is a delightful ride that’s best experienced in the company of friends you can laugh and wince alongside for a joyous hour and a half of drug-fueled animal-attack chaos.
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