THE OSCAR PROJECT
When I heard of Ray Liotta's passing in May 2022, I was crushed. Liotta was an actor that brought unbelievable performances throughout a career that was littered with some bad decisions. He was always brilliant despite the mediocrity of a lot of the films he was brilliant in. A lot of actors are in great films, but few actors make films great. That's what Ray Liotta did consistently. So when I heard this legend of cinema had passed away and that his final acting credit would be in a film called Cocaine Bear, I was beyond enlivened.
This film is more than a film, it's an experience, but not the way classics like Jurassic Park are. It isn't painstakingly laboured over to craft some of the most impressive visual effects in history and isn't the magnum opus of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. It is however a film that is like no other. This movie is exactly what it says on the tin, 50% cocaine, 50% bear, and 100% insane.
From the start the film delivers high energy as it sets up the plot. The opening sequence is manic, loud, brutal and most importantly, darkly humorous. This energy never lets up the entire runtime and confirms every suspicion you may have going into it. It’s an incredibly self aware product and though director Elizabeth Banks doesn't have the most superlative directorial filmography, she proves herself more than capable of delivering an experience as a director just as fun and exciting as her own performances as an actress.
However, the greatest strength of this film is also its greatest weakness. The characters are fodder which is great since it’s supposed to deliver absolute carnage and the most absurd fun attainable. But the film also tries to make us care for certain characters more than others. They have some unique personalities and ways of being, but they're not developed well enough to truly care whether they live or die. They seem written to live without consequence so as to be available to die if necessary for the plot. This is part of the fun since any character can go at any point and there isn't a single person who feels off limits.
This is of course also a problem since an integral part of any survival film is wanting at least one of the characters to survive. If the film was portraying itself as a slaughterhouse and cared very little for the characters being pushed through it, all this would be forgiven but because it tries to drive emotional attachment to certain storylines and characters, it hinders the film overall.
Though the characters aren't always the best written, the acting is solid across the board. O'Shea Jackson Jr. is a stand out who finds the tough balance between tough guy, straight man, and occasional comic relief. He services all archetypes whilst blending them into one synergized personality. Liotta brings depth to his character, Syd, which isn't there in the script, but he creates a real menace that makes us actively root against him from both the bear and human perspective.
There are some great comedic performances from people we expect, but Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery both deliver great comedic roles despite being considerably younger than the rest of the cast. They never feel out of their depth when acting against veterans like Keri Russell which bodes well for their career.
When the film isn't focusing on the characters, it's trying to be funny. The jokes land most of the time and though much of the humour is based on the same rough foundations (a bear liking cocaine, drug induced bear tears limbs of a person, and kid swears or says something inappropriate) they're foundations strong enough to make these jokes last the entire runtime. Because the concept is so ridiculous and outrageously demented, it would take far more than a 2-hour runtime before it became normalized and boring.
In the end, it's difficult to imagine this film actually existing. A movie like this seems straight out of the 80s or 90s where any and all films would get a greenlight. today’s film landscape where less and less risks are being taken in the mainstream, especially in the comedy genre. So despite what you may think of the film overall in its quality, I think we're pretty lucky to get something that isn't afraid to be ridiculous and out there in a time where so many studio comedies are playing it incredibly safe in concept and casting. So for all I needed it to be and for all that it is, I'm going to give Cocaine Bear a...
7 out of 10