Saturday, May 13, 2023

Angry Animal Watch: Cocaine Bear (2023)

Watched:  05/12/2023
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Elizabeth Banks

EDIT: After posting, I was reminded that Banks also directed Pitch Perfect 2 and Charlie's Angels. I want to thank the commenter here (Nate C!) and the one on tumblr who mentioned this. Also, a big reminder to check IMDB before I hit publish.

Sometimes a movie is exactly what you thought it was going to be, but is also what what you were *hoping* it would be, while also being *better* than what you expected.  It's a peculiar equation, but in the middle of this particular triangle of expectation vs. reality, we find Cocaine Bear (2023).

Now, Cocaine Bear is not for everyone.  I read a few reviews that were quite cross about "nothing happens, it's just a bunch of sequences".  And, sort of.  But, also, that's exactly the point.  This is a movie about the joy of a rampaging bear fucking people up.  And, frankly, if you think the *many, many* movies about people getting picked off one-by-one are deep character work with the bear/ shark/ what-have-you as merely a framework, I have some property to sell you in Arizona.  A few are, 90% of them are filling time.  Elizabeth Banks, here in her first feature directorial effort, utterly understands the assignment.  

Banks cuts out any character development to the "bare" minimum.  The bear is not a metaphor.  It is not retribution.  It is not even a force of nature, for in nature, bears do not do massive amounts of coke.  While technically "man vs. nature" is our conflict, nature has consumed massive quantities of cocaine.  

We are not here to learn anything.  We're not going to pretend there's a story of human ingenuity or the human spirit.  We're going to observe people get killed in hilariously horrible ways by a bear, starting from minute one and ending in minute 90.  And we're going to like it.

Cocaine Bear is clearly a rated-R horror comedy, and indulges in a gleeful nihilism as the mission rather than pretending it's doing something else.  No one's morals or innocence are going to protect them from a bear hopped up on goofballs.  So, be prepared for chaos in a world with no real meaning.  

The plot is based on two things that really happened.  IRL, a known drug dealer was found dead in someone's yard with an un-popped parachute and loaded down with 70 lbs of cocaine.  The plane crashed in North Carolina, but drugs seem to have fallen from the plane into Georgia, where a 175 lb bear got into them and was found dead from partying too hard.  No hikers, naturalists, rangers, punks or anyone else was eaten by a bear.The movie knows this is an anecdote, not a story.  And, in the time-honored tradition of cinema, asks "what if?"  

Banks, who has been a thing in Hollywood since at least 2002's Spider-Man (she made a smashing Betty Brant, and I'm sorry she was so underutilized in that franchise), is able to get some interesting casting.  I assume she just said "I'm Elizabeth Banks and I'm making a movie" and that was a selling point for much of the cast.*  

Sure, it's weird that this is Ray Liotta's second-to-final picture (he's also in the just-released Fool's Paradise).  But the film has Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Margo Martindale, Alden Ehrenreich, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Ice Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson, Jr.  That's kinda nuts for a movie about a rampaging bear.

There's a lot of remarkably good visual humor in this thing - if you can stand fake bear maulings - from tree-based jokes to ambulances in trouble.  But character stuff, too, like the mini-arc of the detective disappointed in the dog the ASPCA has given him.  One of the funniest gags of the movie - to me - is that a kid (a friend of Russel's daughter) acts shockingly like a real kid in the midst of all the chaos.

Anyway - quality work.  A perfect Friday-night watch.  Two paws up.  Way up.

*whenever Banks gets interviewed, she's very sharp.  I suspect getting into directing could be a great move for her.


Anonymous said...

It looks like Banks has a few feature directorial credits, including Charlies’s Angels(?) and Pitch Perfect 2. Color me surprised.

Anonymous said...

That comment was from me, Paul’s friend Nate.

The League said...

I had forgotten about Charlie's Angels (as did the movie going public if box office memory serves) but did not know about Pitch Perfect. Good call out! Anyway, good career pivot for her! She's a person of many talents.

RHPT said...

Keri Russell is such a diverse actress. She stars in Cocaine Bear on one streaming service, and in a prestige sries in another.

The League said...

she easily could have been written off as a 90's teen-soap star, but, man. She really is pretty terrific.

The League said...

Thanks, Nate!!!