Review by Sean Boelman
The premise of Cocaine Bear is so insane that it became a major news story when this movie was greenlit. The final product is pretty much exactly as one would expect — a fast-paced ninety-minute comedy with plenty of absurd dark humor but not much substance to build beyond its central conceit.
This is the type of movie where the title is very self-explanatory. A bear finds cocaine in the woods, and goes on a rampage, sparing no one who gets in its way. Audiences know exactly what they are signing up for when they purchase a ticket to see this film, and it delivers on the promise of insanity.
There’s no denying that the concept of this movie is pretty amazing in a purely campy way. It takes the stranger-than-fiction true story — a headline so wild that it feels like it came out of The Onion, but is somehow actually true — and makes a genuinely enjoyable (if overstuffed and shallow) creature feature out of it.
The film is at its best when it embraces the lunacy of the premise. Much of the humor is pure shock value, whether it be from the bear being on cocaine or the younger actors doing something beyond their maturity, but it’s still very funny. Unfortunately, many of the best moments are shown in the trailers, but there are still a few very funny surprises in store.
There are also some horror elements in the movie that are quite well-done. Of course, everything is made with tongue firmly in cheek, but it’s clearly influenced by classic creature features. The gory practical effects, in particular, are used impressively both for comedic and disturbing effect.
Of course, the central bear is made using CGI, and it’s surprisingly very good. In a few of the closer shots, it becomes clear that the bear is fake, and some of the motion is a bit uncannily smooth, but it’s never particularly distracting. In fact, they do a very good job of making the bear emote, giving it more characterization than “bear on coke.”
The big shortcoming of Cocaine Bear is that its human characters simply aren’t interesting. Throughout the runtime, we meet several groups of characters that we are meant to empathize with — including the drug dealers attempting to recover the cocaine, the cop chasing them down, a mother looking for her daughter lost in the woods, a love-struck park ranger, and more. Although the ensemble is great — Margo Martindale and O’Shea Jackson Jr. are particularly hilarious highlights — viewers won’t really care about their characters’ fates.
Ultimately, any part of Cocaine Bear that features the eponymous creature is pretty great, and anything focused on the human characters is substantially less interesting. Still, it’s an entertaining and fittingly bonkers horror-comedy, and at a brisk ninety minutes, it’s hard not to recommend this for a good laugh.
Cocaine Bear hits theaters on February 24.