Once upon a time, deep in the woods by Georgia’s Chattahoochee River, a bear stumbled upon a cartel’s stash, ingested $2m worth of cocaine and … died. If the near-inescapable marketing for this movie had you idly wondering, “What would happen if a bear did a load of cocaine?” this is the underwhelming but factual answer, supplied by a 1985 news report.
That’s not much of a movie, however, so screenwriter Jimmy Warden has instead imagined what might have happened if that 175lb black bear had gone on a coke-fuelled murderous rampage. The result is this film, and not since 2006’s Snakes on a Plane has a title promised so much entertainment, so succinctly. But is this film, like that Samuel L Jackson vehicle, also fated to be blown off-course by the hot air of its own hype? And, relatedly, do bears defecate in the woods?
Cocaine Bear starts promisingly with a moment of superlative, hair-rock-soundtracked slapstick from Matthew Rhys, and has intermittent hedonistic highs throughout. Banks’ direction goes for the gore with admirable gusto, peaking – too soon, alas – with a truly wild ambulance-pursued-by-bear chase. This cast is fine too, featuring the late Ray Liotta looking like Henry Hill back from witness protection, and The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince making good on her early promise. But these are respected character actors. There’s no one here who would be shameless enough to straight-face a line like, “I’ve had it with these muthafuckin snakes on this muthafuckin plane!”, even if Warden’s script had thoughtfully provided one.
There is also no bear behavioural expert, spurious or otherwise, to talk us through what happens to the ursine brain on cocaine, ideally with wall charts and diagrams. The CGI bear looks OK – it suffices for a few jump scares – but true suspense would necessitate a narrative buildup, such as a coked-up equivalent of Jurassic Park’s Jeff Goldblum might provide. There’s a class A premise for a B-movie in here, but Cocaine Bear is just too sober to get high on its own supply.
• Cocaine Bear is released on 24 February in the US and UK.