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Cocaine Bear (2023)::rating::3::rating::3

At every raging party, there’s always That One Guy.  You know him.  He’s a little bit jittery.  A little bit sweaty.  There’s a big, powdery glob coming out of his nose and Jäegermeister coming out of every pore.  He just met you five minutes ago, but goddammit…he loves you, man.  At the end of the night, he vanishes into the darkness, leaving you and your buddies with a forever story about that dude who danced on the furniture and peed down the disposal.

Well, Cocaine Bear borrows the nihilistic spirit of That One Guy and builds an entire movie out of it.  If the trailer, the posters–hell, the title itself–don’t give you fair warning of this film’s unabashed stupidity, then nothing will.  In that way, Bear is kinda brilliant in its unapologetic hedonism:  At 95 minutes, it’s here for a good time, but not a long time.  Your acceptance of its addled goofiness will depend on how much you wanna party.  After all, if you’re throwing back Vegas Bombs with that one dude, it’s either gonna be the best time ever, or the worst.

Anyone who’s drunk deeply from the spiked punchbowl of the internet will recognize this story.  If you haven’t, spoiler alert:  Cocaine Bear derives from real events.  Back in ’85, when the world was caught somewhere between David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, a cargo plane dumped a shitload of Columbian Pure somewhere in the Appalachias.  Naturally, that palate of booger sugar came into the possession of a big ol’ black bear.  And, naturally, said bear tore into this coke cache and transformed into a frothing, teeth-gnashing monster.

As written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Banks, Cocaine Bear cooks up a kooky aftermath to that snow-blowing frenzy.  In a nutshell, this wild-eyed beast becomes a horror supervillain, mauling campers and huffing enough fresh powder to cover Breckenridge.  It’s gory, loopy, and lunkheaded.  In fact, that dopiness is Bear‘s whole raison d-etre.

Warden’s script throws a disparate group of humans into the Cocaine Bear’s path.  Sari (Keri Russell), a nurse and single mother, is the most sensible.  She’s only looking for her rebellious daughter (Brooklynn Prince) and another kid (Christian Convery).  Meanwhile, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) must return the coke to their ruthless boss (Ray Liotta).  And there’s Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), who wants to work her way up to Yellowstone and has the hots for Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), a nature guru.  And there’s a gang of half-assed teen punks roaming the park and pilfering the gift shop.  Annnd we occasionally cut to Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a frumpy, dedicated cop who wants to bust Liotta and…loves dogs, I guess?

If you’re thinking that’s a lot of characters to pack into a 95-minute movie about a bear who digs nose candy, you’re totally right.  All the actors get a moment to be quirky, before they have let out a blood-curdling scream and run for their lives.  Of all the potential victims, two old-school pros make the strongest impression:  Martindale, as the randy, trigger-happy ranger, and Liotta, who gets to play yet another pissed-off coke fiend.  Sadly, Liotta passed last May, making this one of his final performances.  He brings a salty, snarky edge to his sadistic killer, and it’s a great testament to how much he’ll be missed.

That said, ain’t none of us watching anything called Cocaine Bear to get a deeper understanding of the human condition.  No, we’re here to watch a forest animal get higher than the sequoias and chow on a few knuckleheads.  And there’s a few snippets of clever dialogue, just to let us know the filmmakers are totally aware how stupid all this is.  After all, Cocaine Bear is the spirit animal of That One Guy.  It’s happy to act a fool for your entertainment.  As an audience, we’re just here to bear witness.  (Pun intended.)

95 min.  R.  In theaters and on demand.

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