There will be Before “Cocaine Bear” and After “Cocaine Bear.” This is how society will measure time from now on. That demonstrates how transformative this movie is.
OK, perhaps it’s not that profound. But it is an incredible blast, especially if you have the benefit of seeing director Elizabeth Banks’ insanely violent comedy/thriller with a packed crowd. The communal experience is essential here. “Cocaine Bear” will bring people together. “Cocaine Bear” will save cinema.
That’s because “Cocaine Bear” knows exactly what it is and what it needs to do. It’s about a bear … on cocaine. Comparisons to the 2006 disaster extravaganza “Snakes on a Plane” are inevitable, with its high-concept, wild-animal premise, as well as the giddy hype that preceded it.
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Both movies do precisely what their titles suggest, with a minimal desire to be more substantial or meaningful. The few times “Cocaine Bear” injects even a meager amount of sentimentality, the pacing starts to lag. This is not why we are here. We’re here to see a bear snort a bunch of cocaine, then go on a murderous rampage in the forest.
One of the many insane aspects of Banks’ movie is the fact that it is based on a genuine story. A 175-pound Georgia black bear took some cocaine that a drug courier dropped from an airplane in 1985. Playwright Jimmy Warden has taken these basic facts and imagined what would have happened if the bear hadn’t perished but instead had tried the drug and developed an addiction.
She just so happens to come across a strange assemblage of hikers, rangers, criminals, and police officers. While she is seeking her next drug, they particularly find themselves in difficulty as they cross her path. (And lest you think this is an anti-drug movie with a preachy, puritanical message, think again; it features a mocking montage of those 1980s “Just Say No” PSAs, including one from First Lady Nancy Reagan herself).
It’s within the excess of the era that “Cocaine Bear” begins, with an unrecognizable Matthew Rhys maniacally dumping duffel bags of powder (and mixing in a line here and there) with the intent to retrieve them later. (Spoiler: He did not.) Several people go on the hunt for them, though, as they lay scattered throughout Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest.
They include a pair of mismatched buddy drug dealers (Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr.); their humorless boss (Ray Liotta in his final film role, recalling one of his signature performances in “Goodfellas”); and a police detective from the Kentucky town where the smuggler’s plane eventually crashed (Isiah Whitlock Jr., perfectly deadpan as ever).