Cocaine Bear Review: A Very Silly Gorefest With Middling Results

"Cocaine Bear" is barely (bear-ly?) a movie. It's instead a series of sight-gags and CGI-gore-filled pratfalls strung together by the loosest of narratives. Basically, there's one thing going on here, over and over again: a bear does cocaine and kills people. Lather, rinse, repeat, throw in some digital blood. And you know what? That's probably going to be fine for most viewers. The marketing for the film has played up the humor and turned this into more of a meme than a movie. Will you laugh at the uber-silliness on display here? Probably! Will you also come away wishing the film wasn't so damn middling? Possibly! 

Boasting that it's based on "true events," "Cocaine Bear" sets itself up quickly: its the 1980s, and a drug courier (Matthew Rhys, in a fun, quick cameo) drops a ton of cocaine out of a plane while flying over a small town in Georgia. This part of the story is indeed true, as is the fact that a black bear found and digested the cocaine. Unfortunately for the real bear, this resulted in death. In Elizabeth Banks' "Cocaine Bear," however, the bear not only survives, but she becomes addicted to the white stuff and begins rampaging. 

And ... that's it. Really. That's the whole movie. No one will ever accuse "Cocaine Bear" of being complicated. And there's nothing wrong with that! Simplicity is often refreshing, and there's something to be said about how "Cocaine Bear" delivers on what it promises — a cocaine bear! But Banks feels like the wrong filmmaker to tackle this material. Her direction here often feels slipshod, and she never manages to create a sense of place — it's frequently impossible to get a read on who is where, and there are numerous scenes where it feels like actors sharing the same scene are nowhere near each other. 

When dealing with a fixed location — in this case a national park — it helps to develop a sense of place and a sense of space. None of that happens here. On top of that, Banks makes odd choices, like when certain characters have a flashback to something that seemingly happened only a few minutes ago. Why? Why not show it as it happened? Did we need a brief, non-linear scene right here? The script, penned by Jimmy Warden, is full of plenty of playful goofiness, but I couldn't shake the sense that all of this would work much better if Banks had a better handle on the material. 

What if ... a bear did cocaine?

Right about now I can sense people saying, "Who the hell cares about any of that? I just want to watch a bear do cocaine!" And again: fine. You'll get that here! But the bear in question never feels like a character or even a real animal. I get it — it's more humane to use CGI than a real bear, and I support that 100%. But the bear here looks so cartoonishly phony that it's hard to buy into it what the movie is selling. No matter — sure enough, the bear in question begins devouring any unlucky human that crosses its path. And as it turns out there are a whole group of humans wandering around.

There are two kids — Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery — who skip school to go looking for a waterfall in the woods. Then there's Keri Russell, playing the mother of Prince's character, who learns of her daughter's school-skipping and heads out to look for her. Margo Martindale is a surly park ranger who gets swept up in the search. Isiah Whitlock Jr. is a cop investigating the case of the dumped drugs. And then there are two drug dealers, played by O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich, looking for the lost coke. These characters all have names, but none of them matter. They're barely characters. The only one who has anything approaching a storyline is Ehrenreich, who is mourning his recently deceased wife. He also has to contend with his father, a drug smuggler played by the late, great Ray Liotta in one of his final roles. 

All of these individuals will have to contend with the cocaine bear one way or another, with frequently amusing results. Because, yes, "Cocaine Bear" is pretty funny. But the film is so shapeless, so shaggy, that it threatens to fall apart at any moment. It's actually something of a small miracle that it holds together. The film is also so winking in its humor that it begins to get tiresome. It's one thing to be in on the joke; it's another thing to keep elbowing us in the ribs and asking us if we got it.

I'm all for rampaging animal movies. I'm all for ultra-silliness. I'm all for lots of gore. But after a while, the repetitive nature of "Cocaine Bear" began to wear me down, and the humor started to fall flat. Perhaps I'm asking too much from a movie called "Cocaine Bear." But perhaps we should all want just a little bit more from movies, even if they're very silly movies about bears doing cocaine. 

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10