Alden Ehrenreich, Christian Convery, Cocaine Bear, Elizabeth Banks, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta
What would Ranger Smith do?
What would Ranger Smith do if Yogi Bear and Boo Boo stumbled onto a lost shipment of cocaine, got into it, and went all angry grizzly on any human that crossed their paths?
Well, Ranger Smith was never as quick as the ursid smarter than the average bear, so he’d probably end up Yogi’s lunch, which is not far off from what happens in the brutal, wickedly funny Cocaine Bear.
The horror comedy, written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Banks, is based on real events that happened in 1985 when a drug dealer named Andrew Thornton jettisoned the cargo of their overweight plane over a national forest. A bear stumbled on the stash of coke, snacked on it, and died. He apparently did not live long enough to lay waste to any passing tourists.
The motley assortment of people wandering the woods in Cocaine Bear are not so lucky. This is one of those movies in which the majority of the characters are simply fodder. They are walking and talking and soon to be bear food. They include a trio of teenage hooligans; a pair of European tourists; amorous Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale); Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), the wildlife inspector Liz has a crush on; drug kingpin Syd (Ray Liotta); Syd’s grief-stricken son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and his best friend Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.); narcotics cop Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.); tweens playing hooky Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery); and Sari (Keri Russell), Dee Dee’s mom on the hunt for the wayward kids.
The smartest thing about the movie is that it is set in 1985 and it feels like 1985, specifically a drive-in movie from 1985. The action is bonkers with body parts flying and the bear behaving with all the homicidal hunger and intent as Jaws’ shark with not a Roy Scheider or Robert Shaw in sight to stop her coke-fueled rampage. She is having quite the binge!
High praise goes to little Convery as a foul-mouthed tyke who will say anything to pretend to knowledge he doesn’t have. Ehrenreich and O’Shea share amiable chemistry as best buds, reluctant in their mission to find the wayward drugs. Veterans of typically more dramatic fare, Martindale, Whitlock, and the late Liotta (to whom Cocaine Bear is dedicated) are clearly having a blast in their unaccustomed roles of starring in a live-action cartoon. Seriously, Yogi Bear would not be out of place if he were the animal out of his mind.
It is a little sad that Cocaine Bear is arriving in theaters in February. Universal should have held back or the summer months so those towns still blessed with drive-ins could play this ultimate drive-in fare. Maybe with Tucker and Dale vs. Evil on a double bill. Possible with streaming, of course, but don’t wait for that. The mayhem Banks creates with her deranged bear deserves to be seen on a big screen in all its visceral, outrageously funny glory. –Pam Grady