Monday, 17 June 2024

‘Cocaine Bear’ the surreal ride of a slasher dark comedy


Truth is stranger than fiction, and in the case of drug smuggler Andrew Thornton II, a deep dive into his history would probably be even more fascinating than the “inspired by true events” movie that fictionalizes the story of a black bear ingesting cocaine.

“Cocaine Bear” lifts off from an actual event in 1985 when Thornton, an Army paratrooper-turned-racehorse trainer-turned-narcotics cop-turned DEA agent-turned-lawyer-turned-cocaine smuggler (oh, and alleged CIA operative, too), jumped from a Cessna.

After ditching duffel bags of cocaine that landed in the Chattahoochee National Forest, Thornton, while strapped with packets of cocaine and wearing dress Gucci shoes and cargo pants stuffed with cash and gold coins, attempted to parachute to the ground.

The film opens with actual news stories of Thornton, nicknamed “The Cocaine Cowboy,” discovered after plunging to his death by landing in a gravel driveway of a residence in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Thornton was not the only casualty of that flight. Months later, it was discovered that a black bear, weighing about 175 pounds, had been lumbering through the wilderness when it bumbled upon a duffel bag that had been ditched.

The bear took some sniffs, and decided to consume the white powder contents of the bag. This turned out be the only known case of a large mammal succumbing to a deadly overdose.

“Cocaine Bear,” taking plenty of liberties with true events, runs with a dark comedy/horror tale by turning the black bear into a 500-pound apex predator that ingests a staggering amount of cocaine and goes on a coke-fueled rampage for more blow and blood.

The ursine behemoth is first introduced through the perspective of Norwegian hikers Olaf (Kristofer Hivju) and Elsa (Hannah Hoekstra), a newly engaged couple taking a break from the stress of wedding planning to vacation in the woods.

Depending on what trailer you may have seen or heard about, it’s probably not a spoiler alert to reveal that the bear becomes so enraged that it transforms into a psychotic monster willing to slaughter anyone that gets in its path.

St. Louis drug kingpin Syd (Ray Liotta), whose mobile office is often a fast-food joint, enlists his trusted fixer Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and his headcase son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), to retrieve the coke before his Colombian overlords go full “Scarface” mode.

Meanwhile, at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), struggling to complete a quest of many years to take down Syd’s crime family before he retires, heads for the Georgia forest knowing he’s got a chance to make good on his mission.

Bob has an obsessive affection for his dog Rosette, a prim, white Maltese who looks more like a contestant for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show than a regular household pet.

The closest thing to law enforcement at the Chattahoochee National Forest is hapless Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), who’s oblivious to teen punks stealing candy because she’s fixated on attracting the attention of animal-rights activist Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).

Worse than engaging in petty theft, the gang of kids are tearing through the woods stabbing and robbing people. The punks think of themselves as agents of chaos. The one who stands out is Stache (Aaron Holliday), who might lead Syd and his crew to a hiding place for the cocaine.

Not to be overlooked is the fact that drug dealer Daveed was jumped by the three punks in the men’s room, which they come to regret. Later, surly Eddie strikes up a conversation with Stache about being distraught over losing his wife to cancer.

On this fateful day, precocious 12-year-old Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) plays hooky from school with pal Henry (Christian Convery), who’s got a big crush on her, so she can paint a picture of a waterfall and use it gain admittance to an art camp.

Dee Dee’s mom Sari (Keri Russell), a gutsy, skilled nurse who’s divorced, has a fraught relationship with her daughter. Piecing together what has happened, Sari goes chasing for the lost kids, putting her on a collision course with the furry drug addict.

If anything, Sari proves to be the film’s primary hero, seeking to protect her daughter and Henry like a mama bear would guard her lost cubs. She’s tougher and smarter than anyone would guess by her pink jumpsuit.

One stunning sequence involves the ambulance drivers who think they are making a quick getaway once they hit the road with an injured passenger. Let’s just say a coked-up bear has jaw-dropping endurance.

“Cocaine Bear” boils down to living up to its title, causing what to think what the heck is this all about. Given the oddball assortment of characters involved and the overall weirdness of the situation they find themselves in, it’s a combination of dark comedy and slasher film.

The filmmakers were looking to create a surreal rollercoaster ride, making the audience laugh, making them scream, and making the jump.

“Cocaine Bear” reaches its goal, if you are willing to take the ride.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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