★★★★ | Day of the whoa, man!
Some films sell themselves on the title alone. Movies like Snakes on a Plane or Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Big ideas, limited budget, lots of blood. Cocaine Bear belongs to that crowd. All you need to know is there's a bear high on cocaine, and it kills people – mainly because that's about as much plot as you get.
The pitch serves as a litmus test as to whether or not you'll enjoy the film. Does the thought of a coked-up bear mauling a pack of oddballs on a mountain make you snicker? If it does, you're in for a good time. All others need not apply.
Directed by Elizabeth Banks, Cocaine Bear is exactly what it says on the tin. It's a new incarnation of a bear-revenge film in a somewhat short line them. Here, the bear is part Jaws and part vengeful spirit in the vein of I Spit on Your Grave. An innocent that got mixed up with human stupidity, and now takes its revenge through comically violent encounters.
Banks smartly never overplays her hand with her leading threat. The bear isn't the size of a building. It's not a demon from hell. It's a normal-sized rolly-polly black bear that, when not high, is almost cute.
It just happens to be an apex predator doing lines at a rate that would make any Hollywood executive blush.
The characters are archetypes at best, and most only appear for feeding purposes. Luckily, everyone is more than happy to get a mauling. There are sadsack drug dealers, a baffling group of thirtysomething adults posing as teenage hoodlums, a mom looking for her kids, and a park ranger in love. I couldn't tell you their names, but I had a blast cheering for their destruction.
On that front, Banks delivers a loving throwback to 80s carnage. There are torn limbs, face eating, a surprising callback to Day of the Dead, and a general sense that no one is safe. A particularly nasty setpiece involving an ambulance and the bear is one of the highlights of the early year.
Beyond that, there's not much else. But there doesn't need to be. Cocaine Bear is delightful because it knows exactly what it is: 90 minutes of entertainment, no more, no less. I appreciate that kind of honesty. Some elements veer a little too close to the "we made this bad on purpose" mentality, which never works. But they're few and far between.
And while I could nitpick things (the script can get clunky, and some CGI effects are naff), it would be missing the point. Cocaine Bear is fun. That's all it needs to be. Twenty years ago, this would have made a hell of a weekend rental to watch with friends. The fact it's out in theaters is a minor miracle. Don't let it go to waste.