The most absurd element of Cocaine Bear is not, in fact, the bear addicted to cocaine. Instead, its ridiculous premise is outdone by creative choices that elicit befuddled amazement rather than actual laughter. In effect, as misdirected by Elizabeth Banks, the film ends up being both filled with visible strain and yet totally lax in execution.
To its credit, at least the script from Jimmy Warden wastes little time. After a plane loaded with cocaine goes down in a Georgia forest, a disparate batch of folks—including a pair of kids, some struggling gangsters, and various arms of law enforcement (e.g. a not-unenjoyable Isiah Whitlock Jr.)—descend upon the payload. As the title implies, a (CGI) bear gets there first, proceeding to rampage through the rest of Cocaine Bear to mixed effect. As if to insist on her film’s extremity, Banks amps the gore and violence way up at first, only to then meander through narrative scenes with rather sloppy set-ups and punchlines. Case in point: we meet Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), two dealers tasked with recovering the drugs for their kingpin, Syd (played by Ray Liotta in, sadly, his last role). Their backstories, such as they are, and the obstacles they encounter appear like they were sketched together at the start of each day of filming. It’s not so much the film forgets its own plot, it’s more that it just kind of lazily lands on its next beat—when not revelling in scenes of bear-mania, of course.
There’s a way to make films like this work, a B-movie formula that eschews Jaws (which Banks does not have the chops to direct, regardless) in favour of an end result like Tremors. Cocaine Bear is not that, as its absurdity melts quickly into tedium. The only solace on offer is perhaps the idea that the cast and crew had fun on the job. I have to believe hanging out with late-period Liotta was more enjoyable than watching this.