Much of the joy of “Cocaine Bear” comes from the look of the creature itself, which is surprisingly high-tech for a cheesy, silly movie. She’s been brought to life through a motion capture performance by stuntman Allan Henry and CGI from the legendary New Zealand house Weta FX. They’ve definitely amped up the movements and anthropomorphized the animal to a knowing extreme, but they achieve enough realism to make the bear’s attacks harrowing. You’ll laugh and squeal throughout, but you’ll also scream and squirm. The violence is often so graphic and so gory. Some of the gnarliest moments come not from the bear herself, but rather from all of these people being stupid and finding other ways to get injured.
For that reason and so many more, you’ll probably also find yourself rooting for the bear to succeed. She’s just so gleeful as she tears into brick after brick and gets a big whiff of the white stuff up her snoot. The ways in which she ingests cocaine are often quite clever, including doing a line off a leg she’s just severed. And one sequence, in particular, involving the marauding bear, a fleeing ambulance, and Depeche Mode’s catchy “Just Can’t Get Enough” is a tour de force of pacing and tone. Speaking of music, Mark Mothersbaugh’s score adds the perfect synth touch to these antics; similarly, the period-specific needle drops, costume, and production design are on point without being obvious parodies. The posters that adorn the teenage Prince’s walls are especially inspired.
Because “Cocaine Bear” does what it does so well for so long, it’s a disappointment that the filmmakers break from the action to make us care about these characters as actual people. Some standout supporting players do evolve in surprising ways, including Scott Seiss as a paramedic and Aaron Holliday as one of the obnoxious teens. But while the suspense that had carried the film for the first two-thirds of its brisk running time dips as it nears its conclusion, “Cocaine Bear” still emerges as a hell of a high.
Now playing in theaters.