Cocaine Bear is based incredibly loosely – by its own cheerful admission – on a true story about a bear that found a stash of smugglers’ cocaine in the Tennessee wilderness and hoovered up as much as its snout could take. The real bear died after ingesting 34 kilos of Colombia’s finest. In the fictional retelling, the bear develops such a gargantuan habit that it will rapidly dismember anyone who gets between it and its next hit.
That is a very, very daft premise, but it’s not without potential. And it starts reasonably, with a pair of hikers stumbling across the bear and discovering the rule of ‘stand your ground’ doesn’t work when the bear is chemically overconfident. It’s gory and mildly funny but its joke – that the bear is acting like a serial killer – is the only one the film has. It wears thin very quickly.
It's unclear what director Elizabeth Banks wants this to be. She’s an actor with sharp instincts, but a director with surprisingly little comic timing and no grasp of tone. Like her last film, Charlie’s Angels, Cocaine Bear begins new scenes before it’s tied up the last ones and seems content to be all tangent and no point. She spends an age setting up too many characters – a mother (Keri Russell) hunting for her daughter; henchmen ( and O’Shea Jackson Jr) trying to find the lost drugs; a horrible drug kingpin (Ray Liotta, in an unworthy final role); a lazy ranger (Margo Martindale); a cop (Isiah Whitlock Jr) with a comedy dog; several others – then grants each so little screentime that all that groundwork is for nothing.
Watching Cocaine Bear is like being cornered by someone who’s heavily indulged
And the script is so thin that even at 95 minutes this feels padded. It’s surprising to see that Phil Lord and Chris Miller are producers. They’ve always been able to turn unpromising projects – The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street – into creative triumphs, but here their golden touch has deserted them.
There is one sequence that gives a hint of what Cocaine Bear could have been. A pair of paramedics arrive at a cabin and discover bear-induced carnage. The chaos that ensues is something like Looney Tunes meets early Peter Jackson. It’s horribly bloody, tacky and so over the top, it’s kind of funny. Sadly, it’s about five minutes of fun in an otherwise dull time. Watching Cocaine Bear is like being cornered by someone who’s heavily indulged. It’s clear they think everyone’s having a great time and enjoying their jokes, but you can’t wait to be free of their self-indulgent rambling.
In cinemas worldwide Feb 24