Cocaine Bear (M18)
95 minutes, opens on Thursday
The story: An airborne smuggling operation goes awry, leading to bundles of cocaine getting dumped over a nature reserve in the American state of Georgia. The fallen cargo is devoured by a black bear, causing it to go berserk. Hikers, park rangers and members of the smuggling ring find themselves hunted by the drug-crazed creature. Among them are Sari (Keri Russell), a mother searching for her daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), who has played truant to paint in the forest. Based on a true story of a drug drop that caused the death of a bear in 1985, the film also stars O’Shea Jackson Jr, Alden Ehrenreich and Ray Liotta, in one of his final performances before his death in May 2022.
With a title like Cocaine Bear, it is fair to presume that this movie was going to contain gore and survival adventure thrills, which it does. The computer-generated beast is realistic and scary.
Then it all goes as sideways as the botched smuggling operation at the start of the thriller. The creative team, led by director Elizabeth Banks, opted to make characters more well-rounded than your average creature feature. The method: Give everyone some kind of heavy backstory.
Then, remembering that this is a comedy, each character is conveniently conferred an adorable quirk too. So manly cop Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr) coos at his beloved lap dog. Park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) has plenty of swagger but is reduced to a simpering mess when her crush appears.
Oddly, worried mum Sari contains no comedic element at all. One can presume she is there as insurance, in case the audience finds the rest of the ensemble unlikeable.
As if that calculated goofiness is not enough of a problem, here comes the characters of Daveed (O’Shea JacksonJr) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), two gangsters who exist to provide buddy banter. They bicker, but with a tone that is about as light and springy as a lead balloon.
Hot take: An intriguing B-movie concept is undone by mismatched energy levels between characters, who also carry heavy amounts of emotional baggage, much of which needs to be aired through dull dialogue.