Is Cocaine Bear the must-see film of 2023? We take a look ahead to Elizabeth Banks’ redemption film…
There are some film titles that just demand to be watched. Sometimes it’s because they sound so ludicrous as to feel unmissable. It’s also particularly enticing if these happen to be horror or creature themed. Snakes on a Plane, Velocipastor, Amityville Karen, Sharknado and Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. In some cases, they might sound terrible but with the right mindset, in a good way.
When I first saw the artwork and title for Cocaine Bear my first thought was, “how come I didn’t write this?” I’ve had my fair share of daft monster/disaster titles. Next year I have Mega Lightning, Firenado and The Sky Kraken all coming out, which I wrote. I genuinely pondered whether some of my regular producers God love-em had conjured another insane concept but forgot to offer me the gig. Then I thought, “maybe it’s an Asylum special.” Turns out no. Cocaine Bear, much to the surprise of many is, ludicrously enticing title aside, a major indie production. The cost of Firenado is probably about the same as the catering budget for Cocaine Bear. To be fair that could be a big catering budget with a bear to feed (I’m kidding. I do realise it’s a CGI bear).
Cocaine Bear, is very (very) loosely based on a true story and revolves around a rampaging bear that happens upon and ingests a large amount of cocaine. It sounds like the kind of film that could be enjoyably terrible, were it produced by a company like Asylum for example. The trailer dropped though, and it looks as insane as you would expect from the title, but also hugely fun and potentially (and intentionally) hilarious. It’s got cult classic written all over it and a little bit of star power in the cast. Perhaps what’s most surprising though, is that Elizabeth Banks is orchestrating this gnarly bear’s rampage.
Banks has spent a significant chunk of her career in front and behind the camera, within the comedy genre. We’ve long seen her as a wonderful performer able to nail charmingly ditzy characters, quirky characters, as well as show a more macabrely dark side too. Her shift behind the camera began as a producer on Pitch Perfect. She was a figurehead of the series who directed the second instalment. It was a successful venture too. Then came Charlie’s Angels.
If Pitch Perfect hit at a time when some affably goofy sing-a-long theatrics would be popular, then Charlie’s Angels proved the opposite. It was a remake no one really wanted. It didn’t even come with the clout and IP legacy that something like Ghostbusters had when that was unsuccessfully rebooted with its all-female cast. Banks’ version of Charlie’s Angels had little interest and was further hampered by bad word of mouth upon release.
The trouble was, Banks would vocally bemoan the antipathy toward the film and particularly from the male demographic who didn’t appreciate (what some construed as) the feminist stance of the film, preferring to see female action heroes like Wonder Woman as the genre (she felt) is still marketed at men. She was less fervent in chiding the female demographic who just didn’t show up. Banks later expressed disappointment at the film’s clumsy marketing, but all told, it was merely a gamble which didn’t pay off. Yes, moviegoers will watch untold amounts of Spidey reboots, but there was no demand for a new Charlie’s Angels and in reality anti-woke/feminist agendas didn’t come into it much at all.
Still, Banks was merely defending a brain child and why shouldn’t she? At least she’s taking some swings for her movie. How do you pull a 180 and turn your directorial career around? You find a concept that absolutely will work. One that will build buzz from the announcement and if you nail the delivery will gather good word of mouth. Banks, on concept alone has knocked it out the park. It’s great to see, as someone so likeable and charming on screen go for another spin behind camera and really find a great angle. Best of all, it’s not reliant on an IP. Banks will deliver something aggressively original. I’ve known people with almost zero interest in movies who are keen on watching it. Sure, this isn’t gonna hoover up line upon line of Avatar level money, but Banks is smarter than the average bear. She’s delivered a modestly budgeted film with a magnetic concept.
Audiences are in the midst of a significant shift in big screen tastes too. Traditional Hollywood style movies, Oscar bait and big name ensemble pieces seem to be out of vogue now. Babylon, Amsterdam, The Woman King, House of Gucci, and The Last Duel whether below par or not, just didn’t grab the audience. On the flip side horror has had a stellar year. The quality has been brilliant and the numbers, given the low budgets, have been pleasing. Quirky cinema also seems to be popular too, with Everything Everywhere All At Once picking up awards buzz and box office success with a fresh concept and with Michelle Yeoh being given her first American lead.
It feels now as if only the most popular IP material like Marvel, can warrant being big budget. Will this increase the budget gap between Disney-owned tentpoles and the tier below? Will we see a bigger dearth in $50-100 dollar movies? Perhaps. But if there’s a rise in engaging cinema on low to moderate budgets, then it may just be a good thing.
Cocaine Bear will exist in that region, looking like it probably cost around $10 million, and given the buzz, a good shout to make a hefty amount of honey. For Banks, it’ll prove a moment of redemption. It’s a film built on influences like early Sam Raimi, Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino. It shows no red flags for the anti-woke, because any notion of agenda in TV or cinema is usually given a wide berth these days. The fact is sometimes people want a movie to just entertain and be a movie, without cramming an agenda down your throat. It feels like Cocaine Bear has no danger of what The Critical Drinker might call “the message.”
Cocaine Bear bites early in the year and time will tell if it delivers on the promising trailer, or if Avatar: The Way of Water will even leave any trees free for the others to scratch their backs on. Ironically, Winnie The Pooh: Blood and Honey (why, oh why, did I turn down writing that?) is out a week prior so February is very much a battle of bears, but I suspect, much as I’ll enjoy both, Cocaine will beat Blood and Honey. It should be a well-deserved triumph for Banks too.
Are you looking forward to Cocaine Bear? Let us know on our social channel @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award-winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2022/2023, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy, and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.