What an image the incomparable bear maintains in pop culture. A ferocious creature who we humans have often tried to soften with docile makeovers. There’s Yogi Bear, the face of all fictional ursids, a grifter who just wants to eat sandwiches and sit on his ass. There’s We Bare Bears, a cartoon specifically about the phenomena of bears assimilating to human society. Don’t forget those polar bears from the Coca-Cola commercials, teddy bears, gummy bears, Brother Bear, CARE BEARS! There’s a lot of media and marketing devoted to making bears seem friendly and understanding. But everyone can compartmentalize the fact that a bear is one of the last things you want to see unexpectedly in person, and perhaps we have just the movie to exaggerate that anxiety to both comedic and horrific results. Cocaine Bear is just around the corner, ready to unleash an onslaught of memes while nuking whatever good PR the bear community has built to this point. Coca-Cola will need to play several of those saccharine commercials at the Super Bowl to even begin to counter the impact.
The aforementioned movie is, shall we say, inspired by true events. The real story of the cocaine bear is intriguing but perhaps not quite ready for the silver screen. It involves a black bear, in 1985, stumbling upon and consuming 40 packages of cocaine before dying soon afterward. Today, the legacy of that black bear lives on as a taxidermy sideshow in a Kentucky mall. However, the story of the bear itself could springboard into a discussion about the politics of the 80s drug trade and the events that led to a drug dealer wanting to parachute a gargantuan amount of white powder into a secluded forest in the first place. Perhaps Netflix, or some other platform, is laying the groundwork for the docuseries as we speak. But that’s not quite what director Elizabeth Banks, and screenwriter Jimmy Warden, are interested in here:
So as you can see, a little bit of creative license has been taken. This has morphed from an intriguing bit of historical trivia to an all-out screwball comedy. Banks and companies are taking so much joy from the premise that we are essentially here for an exercise in schadenfreude, as each character has the improbable task of surviving an encounter with a bear that is essentially on a form of PEDs. Although it’s fun to think of this actually being based on a true story if only so we can imagine the moment of the bear leaping after an ambulance as a real event that happened in world history.
Now, while the gag of a doped-up black bear is enough to draw viewers in, is there enough material here for a feature-length film? That will depend on the writing and how interesting the characters are. If the movie is just a series of skits strung together, the central premise may wear thin. With a plot this high concept, it would be easy to fall into the trap of “Well, the title is funny, so that means the whole movie will be funny…” This is the same mistake employed by Snakes on a Plane (2006), a meme movie that relied on viral hype to stir online fans into a frenzy. However, by the time the movie came out, the best jokes had already been conspired by fans on online forums. The one and only thing people remembered about the movie is the very line everyone knew was coming as soon as the film was announced.
Cocaine Bear will have to prove it has better comedic chops than that – don’t let the internet write a better comedy than you. Snakes on a Plane underwhelmed because the characters and scenarios were forgettable. Cocaine Bear will hopefully have more meat on its bones, as the trailer previews that there will be a ton of focus on the actual drug dealers who allowed this fiasco to happen and the various service people who will be tasked to subdue the hyperactive behemoth. This makes Cocaine Bear, potentially, not just a raucous adventure but something of a crime caper with a heavy dose of dark humor.
While the bear itself has their name on the marquee, the humans will make or break this movie because we’ll spend more time with them than with the title character. If all goes well, this film won’t just be remembered for a maniacal, blood-stained bear chasing after a plethora of misfortuned saps. It would also be remembered for the real comedy beneath this dark tale – how such a catastrophe could only be possible with the help of a lot of stupid human beings.
Cocaine Bear goes on a bender, in theaters on February 24th, 2023.