Here’s a cinematic legend that I find it hard to wrap my head around. Not because I don’t believe it but rather because I do believe it, and it strokes my desire to understand the underlying meaning inherent in the tale.
Orson Welles states in an interview that while preparing pre-production on Citizen Kane he watched Stagecoach more than two dozen times over the period of a month.
Stagecoach has many amazing dramatic beats and mood shifts, and while it’s not the point of this particular review, it’s easy to see a direct link in the films filmmakers make to the films that inspired them.
As an aside – and this is total speculation on my part – Welles didn’t watch Stagecoach on his phone, he didn’t watch it on a VCR or 4K disc player. Welles didn’t stream the oater from a cable channel. Presumably, Welles showed up at his office at RKO and walked over to the screening room where an available print was projected for him. Day after day, for more than a few weeks.
So the question must be asked, what films did Elizabeth Banks watch over and over that inspired the gory glory that is Cocaine Bear? There’s humor to be sure, but it’s not tongue in cheek like Evil Dead. There’s evisceration but not like an Italian Giallo.
Based on a true story – and folks this film is more accurate than Emily, another film being released this week that depicts the Bronte sisters in ways that are suitable for dramatic consumption at the expense of real events – Cocaine Bear recalls the time in the 1980s when a shipment of large quantities of cocaine in duffle bags were dumped and lost over a National Park forest.
Naturally, our hero, a full grown grizzly bear, finds the cocaine and rapidly becomes addicted but not before thoughtfully stashing many kilos in its cave.
A bevy of characters track the lost drug stash, some inadvertently and some with deadly purpose, among them O’Shea Jackson Jr.. Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martingale and in his last role, Ray Lotta, who does not disappoint. There are another half dozen other players that you wouldn’t be surprised to find popping up in cool films in the next few years.
Various characters converge at the forest and proceed to receive abuse from the bear whose carnivorous instincts have been sharpened by the precision brought on by the white powder. “Peruvian Marching Powder” was a key phrase in another unlikely cocaine movie starring Michael J. Fox, Bright Lights, Big City in the late ’80s. Substitute Fox for an apex predator.
Is there any subtext between Cocaine Bear and the current opioid epidemic? Not really, and it’s for the best. Banks revels in cheesy ‘70s needle drops (Jefferson Starship’s, “Jane”) and contrived situations that result in awesome visual payoffs. There’s some very good mauling on display.
In fact, in one fell swipe, Banks has claimed the trophy of actors turned directors more astutely than Olivia Wilde.