Cocaine Bear

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Cocaine Bear
dir Elizabeth Banks
scr Jimmy Warden
prd Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Duffield, Max Handelman
with Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O'Shea Jackson Jr, Ray Liotta, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brooklynn Prince, Christian Convery, Aaron Holliday, Ayoola Smart, Kristofer Hivju
release US/UK 24.Feb.23
23/US Universal 1h35

ehrenreich jackson liotta

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russell and mama bear
Almost criminally entertaining, this nutty action thriller plays out like a comedy pastiche throwback to those 1980s nature-goes-wild movies. Director Elizabeth Banks has a great time peppering the screen with throwaway gags that are genuinely hilarious, while weaving the strands of Jimmy Warden's screenplay into a riotously silly romp. And the actors dive in fully. That it's (very loosely) based on a true story only adds to the fun.
In 1985 Georgia, a drug-running pilot drops duffel-bags of cocaine in a remote forest, and a black bear quickly develops a taste for the stuff. St Louis mobster Syd (Liotta) sends his over-emotional son Eddie (Ehrenreich) with henchman Daveed (Jackson) to collect the drugs, while Detective Bob (Whitlock) is on the case. Meanwhile, Sari (Russell) is looking for her 13-year-old daughter Dee Dee (Prince), who skipped school go hiking with her friend Henry (Convery). And park ranger Liz (Martindale) is encouraging the attentions of wildlife expert Peter (Ferguson) while fending off three opportunistic teen thugs.
High as a kite, this crazed mama bear interrupts each of the intertwining story strands, chomping on various characters in an effort to ingest more white powder. She also occasionally becomes protective or amorous. All of this is rendered with uneven digital effects that bristle with snarling realism when they don't look like a Looney Tune cartoon. The violence gets gleefully gruesome along the way, both due to this out-of-control predator and a bunch of impatient people who are brandishing guns.

The cast is clearly having a great time, especially since most characters are oblivious about the threat this bear poses, mainly because they have other things to worry about. Russell is the straight figure, remaining largely outside the joke while everyone else spirals into wackiness. Standouts are the late Liotta as a relentlessly greedy gangster, Ehrenreich as a widower prone to bouts of crippling grief, Jackson as a goon fed up by each insult life hurls at him, and especially Martindale as a no-nonsense but also preoccupied ranger.

It's rare for a movie to so adeptly walk that tightrope between extreme grisliness and outrageous comedy, but Banks manages to create something that will appeal to fans of both. And because it rockets along at such a blistering pace, accompanied by amusingly anachronistic music and packed to the brim with offhanded gags, this is likely to become a cult classic. So brace yourself for the ensuing rip-offs. And of course the tongue-in-cheek sequels.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 23.Feb.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall