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‘Cocaine Bear’ is up to snuff

Graphic by Sarah Irwin

As soon as I heard the premise for this movie, I was hooked. As if a bear going on a cocaine-fueled murder rampage wasn’t enough, it’s partially based on real-life events.

While the only historically accurate parts were dropping cocaine out of a plane and a bear eating it, director Elizabeth Banks and writer Jimmy Warden didn’t let a little thing like the truth get in the way of a good story.

The film begins with “Jane” by rock band Jefferson Starship and information about bear attacks cited from Wikipedia. I knew what kind of movie I was in for and was once again captivated.

Even with a large ensemble cast, every character has strong moments and it’s hard to pick a favorite. Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Margo Martindale’s appearances were definite surprises for me. Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. were perfectly cast as the one-emotional-and-one-stoic comedic duo and should appear in more projects together.

Ehrenreich is most famous for playing Han Solo in the beleaguered “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” but hasn’t had another film role since 2018. Here, he’s terrifically funny as Eddie, a grieving newly-widowed father and son of a drug dealer that wants nothing to do with “the family business.”

Jackson’s character Daveed undergoes the biggest character arc in the film, showing his evolving relationships with Eddie and Bob, a detective on the case played by Isiah Whitlock, Jr.

As one of his final films, what a way to go out for Ray Liotta. His performance as Syd, the drug dealer responsible for the cocaine in the forest, was menacing, yet slightly cartoonish, in his single-minded pursuit to recover the lost cargo. In the process, he risks the deaths of himself, his son and underling.

Additionally, the two child actors in the film – Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery – gave natural performances and brought plenty of heart to the film.

“Cocaine Bear” utilizes its R rating to the fullest, showing the gruesome reality of bear attacks while balancing gory, emotional and occasionally funny death scenes.

Obviously, a movie studio wouldn’t hop a bear up on cocaine and start filming, but the superb animation might have you think otherwise. I know that the Oscar field for Best Visual Effects is pretty crowded these days, but a nomination at the very least wouldn’t shock me. The titular bear, or Cokey, is as much a character as the humans, thanks in no small part to the motion capture performance by Allan Henry.

Because motion capture is common in movies these days, I feel that what it actually means for filmmaking goes under the radar. Knowing that while we saw a terrifying creature, the other actors saw a man in a skintight black suit with a weird helmet and arm stilts makes me appreciate the actors’ performances that much more.

By and large, “Cocaine Bear” is what it says on the tin: a horror pastiche featuring a drugged-up animal. That said, come for the wacky drug horror comedy and stay for the surprising messages about family and needing to let go.

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