‘Cocaine Bear’ assessment: Horror-comedy is nothing to smell at

In September 1985, Tennessee authorities found the physique of Andrew Carter Thornton II, a former narcotics officer turned drug smuggler who had fallen to his dying from a airplane. The luggage filled with cocaine he was transporting into the nation took longer to get better. By the time the illicit cargo was present in Georgia’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, a lot of it had already been ingested by an unlucky 175-pound black bear, discovered lifeless close by of an enormous overdose. From this real-life story of greed, stupidity and humanity’s unthinking abuse of nature rises a pure query: What if the bear, reasonably than merely kilo-ing over, had gone on a murderous coke-fueled rampage pushed by a starvation for not simply sinewy human flesh (although there’s loads of that), however for one more whiff of that candy, candy powder?

Nasty, brutish and snort-filled, “Cocaine Bear” gives an especially gory and amusingly speculative reply. Having grabbed headlines with its viral trailer, cheerfully self-explanatory title and sly redefinition of “high concept,” the film has already invited apparent pre-release comparisons to “Snakes on a Plane,” the (sadly underseen) 2006 thriller that soared for months as an web sensation earlier than crashing to box-office earth. Whether or not audiences kind strains for “Cocaine Bear,” it’s arduous to fully dismiss a mainstream horror-comedy that gives a pleasant provide of sharp and grisly, at the very least till it takes a disappointing flip for comfortable and cuddly. You’ve seen worse new films in February, possibly even this February.

What you most likely haven’t seen is a 500-pound bear (as a result of all the things is greater in Hollywood) mauling her approach by means of a once-idyllic stretch of federally protected woodland. (Most of this largely Georgia-set film was shot in rural Ireland.) In holding with most of at the moment’s apex-predator-run-amok entertainments, together with final 12 months’s solidly entertaining “Beast,” this fictional model of “Pablo Escobear” (a domestically coined nickname) is solely and convincingly computer-generated, from her deadly claws to the top of her more and more coke-dusted, bloodstained snout.

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After teasing us with an early glimpse of Teddy Drugspin in tourist-pouncing, leg-severing motion, Jimmy Warden’s script lays out a busy array of human subplots. Keri Russell performs a loving single mother; Brooklynn Prince (“The Florida Project”) is her adolescent daughter, who picks the worst potential day to move into the forest along with her finest pal (Christian Convery). O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich and Aaron Holliday are properly grouped as three bumbling crooks on a mission to retrieve the misplaced cocaine. Also within the combine are the indispensable Margo Martindale as a grouchy park ranger, Jesse Tyler Ferguson as a hapless animal-rights activist, Kristofer Hivju (“Game of Thrones”) as a traumatized hiker and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as a police detective with a cute canine.

Don’t fear, the canine survives. Not all of the others are so fortunate, and “Cocaine Bear,” like most films that flip schadenfreude into leisure, does a fairly good job of each scrambling and satisfying your expectations. The director Elizabeth Banks, making her third characteristic (after “Pitch Perfect 2” and the current “Charlie’s Angels” reboot), has a clear approach with messy motion, as we see within the film’s finest scene — a delirious Depeche Mode-scored motion spotlight involving a gurney, a rushing ambulance and a few really jaw-dropping, wrist-snapping prosthetic wounds. Not all of the bear’s victims solicit your contempt, which is one other approach of claiming it isn’t straightforward to foretell who lives and who dies, although you possibly can wager the latter will embody the fool backing away towards a conveniently positioned grab-and-go window.

The suspense derives partially from the pulse-pounding exertions of Mark Mothersbaugh’s rating, and likewise from the characters’ assumption that black bears are (a) much less harmful than brown bears and (b) all the time sober. But it additionally stems from some newbie mammalogy on the a part of Banks and Warden, who advance some humorous, fanciful concepts how Teddy Drugspin may reply to treats, threats and different stimuli. Would she pounce on each one who crosses her path, or simply those who themselves occur to reek of coke? Will her newest excessive make her hungry, or sleepy? Will the youngsters survive her killing spree? Have we seen the final of Prince’s character when midway by means of the film she exits, pursued by a cocaine bear?

Aaron Holliday, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich within the film “Cocaine Bear.”

(Pat Redmond / Universal Pictures)

That the bear seems to be a mama herself, full along with her personal cute little Winnie-the-Potheads, may go a way towards answering that query. It’s right here that the film, after about an hour of steadily escalating mayhem, goes unrewardingly comfortable. The motion begins to pull, the twists get extra belabored and what performed at first like a gleefully unapologetic exploitation-movie train threatens to turn out to be a late-breaking morality play. That’s candy and defensible in idea, I assume; come for the sniffs, keep for the sniffles. But it additionally suggests a failure of nerve in a film daring sufficient to indicate two younger youngsters tasting cocaine for the primary time, in gleeful defiance of the anti-drug commercials that seized the airwaves within the ’80s and ’90s.

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Banks reveals us a few of these commercials on the outset, although she stops in need of satirizing the “Hugs, Not Drugs” marketing campaign that was a fixture of so many elementary faculties, with none apart from Hugs the Bear serving as its furry, pleasant mascot. Elsewhere, she pays gratifying unsubtle homage to this story’s particular second, cramming the soundtrack with ’80s hits (however no “Ursine o’ the Times,” alas) and having Matthew Rhys, Russell’s “The Americans” co-star, play the ill-fated Thornton in a fast prologue. Also winkingly solid is the late Ray Liotta, who famously inhaled huge portions of coke in “Goodfellas” and right here performs a ruthless drug lord in his last display function. Does his character get an exit worthy of him? Does a bear snort within the woods?

‘Cocaine Bear’

Rating: R, for bloody violence and gore, drug content material and language all through

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 24 normally launch