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Yes, there’s a giant bear and, yes, it does a ton of coke. And, yes, just as you probably suspected, the movie blows. We have officially sunk very low with “Cocaine Bear,” way past other films where the title alone describes the only thing that happens, like “Snakes on a Plane,” “We Bought a Zoo” or “Sharknado.” Aping other genres of filmmaking, this one never finds its own voice or a way to integrate the ultra-violence with the dark comedy. It’s like a parody of a parody that director Elizabeth Banks has turned limp and pointless.
If you think it’s hysterical to see a bear do a bump off a severed leg stump, by all means, the movie theater is this way. But where does it all go from here? Just match an apex predator with a Schedule II drug and fall deeper into a movie future with “Oxycodone Osprey” or “Codeine Crocodile”? The best thing to say is that, even at an efficient 95 minutes, “Cocaine Bear” just snorts along. When a drug runner in a plane in 1985 drops an outstanding amount of cocaine on Blood Mountain in Georgia, a 500-pound black bear ingests a brick of it and naturally wants more (At this point, we must call it Pablo Escobear, right?). Unfortunately, there are different groups of people who happen to be in the woods at the same time — a pair of European backpackers, a teen and her friends skipping school for a hike, a trio of thugs, a pair of park ranger types, the drug runner’s associates and a cop on the hunt. The movie stars Keri Russell, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, Kristofer Hivju, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich and the late Ray Liotta. All deserve hazard pay. This is not a career high. Eagle-eyed viewers will note that the presence of Russell and Martindale plus a cameo from Matthew Rhys combines three members of the Cold War-era spy TV series “The Americans.”
That’s an indication of the kind of meta humor here. There’s a reference to Pines Mall, which is a little nod to “Back to the Future,” but who really cares? “Jane,” the opening song, is an homage to ”Wet Hot American Summer,” which Banks co-starred in and had the same Jefferson Starship opening tune. Looking for Easter eggs takes your mind of the meandering script. Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden have created a mashup of Quentin Tarantino bloodfests, Sam Raimi’s scare tactics and the Coen brothers’ absurdity. The bear will sneak up behind its victims, race silently, leap in slo-mo, luxuriate under a dust cloud of coke, behead enemies, climb trees and walk on its hind legs, snarling. If only it snorted enough coke to stay up all night and write a better plot.
The filmmakers are also clearly trying their hand at satire, but ham-fistedly. Set during the Reagan-era “Just Say No” period, “Cocaine Bear” hopes to remark on the demonization of drugs and it also seems to have something to say about how humans misunderstand the balance of nature. Neither work. If you want to use a bear to talk about larger things, look no further than 1997’s dark “The Edge,” with a screenplay by David Mamet exploring masculinity and intellectualism, or even 1988’s light “The Bear,” about the nobleness of creatures — it even has a bear cub eating hallucination-inducing mushrooms.
“Cocaine Bear” is like a dull butter knife against those two. Remarkably, no real bears were used this time. Weta FX, the New Zealand-based special effects company founded by Peter Jackson, supplied the massive flakedup and all-digital ursine, complete with a mangled ear and scars on its snout. The soundtrack is pure ’80s — Scandal’s “The Warrior,” Berlin’s “No More Words” and Depeche Mode’s very appropriate “Just Can’t Get Enough.” And in another bit of trickery, “Cocaine Bear” was shot largely in rural Ireland, which the creators say closely resembles the Georgia mountain wilderness. Actually, that reminds us of what else bears famously do in the woods. These filmmakers left us a pile of it. “Cocaine Bear,” a Universal Pictures release that hit theaters recently, is rated R for “bloody violence and gore, drug content and language throughout.” Running time: 95 minutes. Zero stars out of four. MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. By Mark Kennedy