Reading #CocaineBear jokes on Twitter is measurably more fun than seeing Elizabeth Banks’ new meme-ified monster movie, one that arrives in theaters this week to the jittery buzz of a viral marketing campaign, but without a single cinematic idea or ambition to back it up.
COCAINE BEAR ★1.5 (1.5/4 stars)
The extent to which the film fails to live up to the promise of its B-movie title is staggering and, given the high-quality cast and craftsmen bending over to agree on behalf of the film’s high-wire and brash premise, it’s borderline tragic. .
The primary sin of Cocaine Bear– Overseen by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s Pop Culture Mix Master Producing Team (the Lego movie)— is the complete inability to balance the film’s dual guidelines of broad comedy and shocking horror. The comedy, all lacking in humor and largely without bite, is delivered in the flat-presentational fashion of a sitcom or less Judd Apatow outing, a style that never shivers to rise to the occasion when the stalking of a deranged ursine requires more dynamic use of light, shadow and camera movements.
The film—a fictionalized retelling of a 1985 story about traffickers dumping 75 pounds of cocaine from a plane and a bear residing in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest who swallows it and quickly quacks it—doesn’t have a strong enough stance or focus to make its promising logline to come true.
What Banks’ third directorial effort does have is an impressive cast composed of peak television, independent films, and viral videos. (Comedian Scott Seiss, best known for his truthful Ikea retail employee in a series of TikToks, appears as doomed EMT.)
Keri Russell, as a single mother and nurse whose teenage daughter (The Florida Project‘s Brooklynn Prince) is captured by the title character, doing her best to drum up a mother bear fierceness equal to her forest counterpart, but with so little to play against it’s like working in a vacuum . She joined her Americans co-stars Margo Martingale, misused as an ornery park ranger, and Matthew Rhys, who cameos as a hapless coke dealer whose parachute fails to deploy. Meanwhile, Alden Ehrenreich, whose upcoming hedge fund thriller Fair game was the talk of this year’s Sundance, brings a strange and ill-fitting pathos to his grieving drug dealer who is reluctantly forced to retrieve the lost Florida snowpacks.
Surprisingly, the few moments when the decidedly R-rated movie (forget cigarettes, Cocaine Bear show us kids swallowing big gulps of Colombian nasal candy like it’s Fun Dip) comes to life with a jolt as the blood thickens. At the very least, the film’s slippery guts and severed body parts provide the sort of visual shock and payoff that’s palpably absent from its half-hearted attempts at suspenseful horror.
But what is unfortunately most striking is how nice the makers seem not to have. This is most noticeable in Mark Mothersbaugh’s uninspired, synth-fried score; it contains none of the telltale irony and piquant rhythms of his other film work, inclusive The Lego movie.
It’s like the Devo Genius is just going through the motions. In that way, Mothersbaugh’s contributions aren’t all that different from the movie itself. Cocaine Bear pretends to celebrate all that’s vital and unruly in schlock cinema, but by not having the passion or vision to back its smashing title, it instead engages in the most tiresome, marketing-first habits of making of corporate films.
Observer Reviews are regular reviews of new and notable movies.