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The Heady Rush of...*Cocaine Bear*!
The greatest ursine stimulant film of all time.
The opening scene of Cocaine Bear shows a hopped up guy in an airplane throwing duffel bags filled with cocaine through the door. He’s all smug and self-impressed as he boogeys about the cargo-bay, adjusts his somewhat terrifying mustache, puts on his sunglasses, strides to the open door with his parachute, gets ready to leap, conks his head on the top of the door, and plunges to his death. It’s perfect slapstick, like Bugs Bunny or Charlie Chaplin—albeit with a more gruesome final outcome.
That’s the brilliance of the film. Elizabeth Banks tosses in all the gratuitous severed legs and dripping blood you could ask for in a horror movie, but it’s not really a horror movie. Instead, it’s the kind of deftly timed physical comedy you don’t see that much on the big screen any more, all double takes and sleight of hand misdirection before the bear claw comes through the window to tear your nose off. The film bounds from one ridiculous set piece to the other—a gloriously clumsy restroom fist fight, an ambulance/bear car chase, an improbable gazebo gun stand off. In one scene Cocaine Bear just decides to lie down on a cowering human rather than killing him. Why? Because why not? It’s funny. It’s a bear full of cocaine and she got sleepy. (We know from this scene on that it’s a she because the poor guy trapped under her explains that her vagina on in his ear.)
I’ve seen some reviewers complain that the bear’s behavior is inconsistent. But it’s like complaining that the Coyote doesn’t just shoot the Road Runner. The film isn’t about consistency. It’s about the beauty of the gags, and the way some poor schmuck’s hand drops off his wrist like a pratfall.
Banks is also smart enough to know that of course we’re rooting for that big CGI bear and its naughty cocaine nose. Animal attack films can be irritating because they have to frame the shark or the alligator as more dangerous than humans, when of course by the numbers humans slaughter thousands and tens of thousands more of our fellow creatures than the other way around. But in this case it’s very clear that this is no ordinary bear; it’s a bear humanified through our mutual enthusiasm for controlled substances. The bear is a thinly veiled humanity in a bear suit. Also it’s cute. Look at the blood dripping from its maw! Awwww.
So yes, there are some obligatory survivors, and Keri Russell is the putative protagonist good mom, fighting the Big Bear Evil Mom antagonist. This isn’t Aliens though, where it’s all about Ridley’s empowerment and the common struggle against an overwhelming foe.
Instead, we spend most of our time with the excellent character actors (including Ray Liotta and Isaiah Whitlock, Jr.) bumbling towards their deaths with just enough character development to make you care for them and their hopeful romances or new dogs, and just enough whiney incompetence that you can cheer when they get torn to pieces.
Of course, anyone who expresses any level of knowledge about or affection for bears is instantly and horrifically punished for their impertinence. They’ve made a horrible error. The bear isn’t a symbol of nature. It’s not even a symbol really of the hedonistic 80s. Instead that bear is the director herself. There are certain expectations for what a woman directed movie looks like, just as there are expectations about the timidity and general harmlessness of black bears. Banks gets all of those preconceptions in her slavering maw and gives a vigorous kill shake. She lopes across the screen, tearing this character apart and leaving that one live, high on her own creativity. You can practically hear her snort.
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