Keri Russell in Cocaine Bear


After we'd viewed its trailer and learned its title, I'm not sure it even mattered whether Cocaine Bear ever arrived as a legitimate release for paying audiences. Wasn't it already, in our minds, the greatest so-bad-it's-awesome B-movie we'd ever hope to see in our lifetimes? I mean, come on! It's a bear … on cocaine! Samuel L. Jackson could only dream of headlining a comic thriller with a conceit so outrageously silly yet so inarguably ingenious. And part of me still wishes that director Elizbaeth Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden had kept their feature-length entertainment a figment of our collective imagination, like that plethora of faux drive-in titles that peppered Tarantino's Grindhouse, or those comically nightmarish sitcom credits implying an actual Too Many Cooks.

Yet as I'm mostly happy and only a wee bit disappointed to report, Cocaine Bear does indeed exist, and manages to nail its unassumingly tricky goal with unexpected skill. It's hard to imagine a cinematic tone more difficult to intentionally pull off than so-bad-it's-awesome, given that most works of this variety – with Tommy Wiseau's The Room the eternal 21st-century example – are only acknowledged as such after they've already been judged, and largely condemned, by the public. Aim for laughs too broadly, and your film will appear to be dumbing down the natural intelligence of its participants, treating everyone – audience included – like saps. Aim for accidental naïveté, and the results are likely to look merely inept, with none of the accompanying fun. (Off the top of my head, I'd name 2016's Independence Day: Resurgence as an example of the former, and 2015's Jupiter Ascending as an example of the latter.) But while Banks' and Warden's outing is both less stupid that it could have been and less stupid than it should have been, I had a surprisingly agreeable time – and so did a high-schooler friend of mine, and my 50-something bestie, and my octogenarian mother, who was stoked to see the movie ever since its preview played before our screening of 80 for Brady. If it takes a massive black bear high on blow to unite the generations in this manner, by all means bring on Cocaine Bear 2: Grislier & Grizzly-er.

Not that it matters – or maybe it's part of the film's inherent appeal – but Warden's script is inspired by a true story in which drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II, in 1985, jettisoned bricks of coke out of his plane before attempting a parachute escape that went tragically wrong. (In the first of many celebrity cameos in Banks' movie, said smuggler is played by Matthew Rhys, who doesn't live long enough to be reunited with his The Americans co-stars Keri Russell and Margo Martindale.) A number of those bricks, in this telling of the tale, landed in Georgia's Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. A bear consequently consumes a bunch of them. And although, in Real Life, the black bear that apparently ingested all those drugs basically curled up in a ball and died without having the time or inclination to harm anyone, that's not the behavior exhibited by our titular character. Befitting a coke fiend in the mid-'80s, she wants more, and she wants it now, and she'll annihilate anyone who stands in her way. Picture Less Than Zero, but with a ravenous Baloo in the Robert Downey Jr. role.

Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery in Cocaine Bear

Obviously, “bear jacked up on blow” still isn't much of a narrative on which an entire 95-minute movie can rest, and one of the biggest unanticipated pleasures of Cocaine Bear is that the decidedly cheeseball-disaster-flick subplots engulfing its premise are all at least moderately amusing in their own right. Better yet, they suggest that legitimate thought and, dare I say, wit were involved in their employment. Keri Rusell may be portraying a devoted, heroic mom desperate to save two kids from the bear's clutches, but she plays this archetype in the loudest hot-pink jumpsuit you've ever seen, and the kids who need saving (the hilarious Christian Convery and The Florida Project breakout Brooklynn Prince) not only handle themselves just fine, but take a pre-attack moment to experiment with, and loathe, cocaine. (They maybe shouldn't have tried to eat it.) The wonderfully matched O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich may be goons hired by Ray Liotta's kingpin to find his missing kilos of coke, but they're allowed unanticipated depths of feeling. Isiah Whitlock Jr. may be playing his umpteenth aggrieved detective, but he's never before been one with a major soft spot for a miniature pooch who resembles the bottom half of a mop. (I'm still astounded, though, that Banks and Warden couldn't find a place for Whitlock's signature reading of “Shi-i-i-i-i-i-i-it,” because this thing gives him at least a half-dozen opportunities for it.)

Limbs, and pieces of limbs, are gnawed or blown off in increasingly gory fashion. An innocent bystander's brains splatter so that they barely miss the camera. A rainfall of coke gives our titular anti-heroine the strength to come back from the dead. And despite Cocaine Bear's many trashy, unapologetically disgusting wonders, I'd trade them all for even more scenes of Margo Martindale demurely trying to seduce Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson (!) before involving herself in the nastiest, most hilariously awful ambulance ride I've seen in at least a decade of moviegoing. Cocaine Bear is kind of exactly what you think it's going to be. At its finest, though, it's significantly better than it deserves to be, principally because the Cocaine Bear that we're all there to see doesn't, in truth, deliver the majority of the movie's delights. Not when we're allowed the beautifully tragicomic sight of Ehrenreich sobbing into his plate of dive-bar penne, and Liotta getting exactly the comeuppance he deserves, and Convery and Ferguson meeting at adjoining locales 100 feet in the air in the most half-baked of flight plans: “Bears can't climbs trees!” / “Of course they can!” / “Then why are you up here?!”

Ally Ioannides and Jonathan Roumie in Jesus Revolution


As counter-programming to the second weekend of the latest Ant-Man, the release of Cocaine Bear was an inspired choice. As counter-programming to a comic-book sequel and a gruesome comedy involving high-as-a-kite wildlife, Jesus Revolution was a really inspired choice – and, all things considered, a pretty darned inspiring movie. Set during the 1968-69 ascent of the Jesus-freak movement in southern California, directors Jon Erwin's and Brent McCorkle's pro-faith drama is, unsurprisingly, a rather simplified account of the national crusade's beginnings, and as you might expect, there's a fair amount of preaching to the choir. Yet sincerity that's void of sanctimony counts for a lot, as does humor that's void of corn, and both can be found in abundance here, particularly whenever Jonathan Roumie is on-screen as hippie revolutionary Lonnie Frisbee.

At first, Roumie's presence feels a bit like a joke whose punchline is all too obvious. Playing the barefoot, slightly zonked-out true believer who conveniently enters the life of Kelsey Grammer's conservative pastor Chuck Smith right when the man needs him most, Roumie looks uncannily like Christ, and his earnest, lulling vocal rhythms suggest the New Testament being read from the soothing confines of a warm bubble bath. (I wasn't initially aware that Roumie had considerable experience with works of this type, having already played Jesus for three seasons on the TV phenomenon The Chosen, whose season-starting and -ending episodes also enjoy bookings at the cineplex.) The actor, however, is so naturally disarming in his approachability and so genuine in his goodness that he transcends the contrivance of his role, making it all the more satisfying – and refreshing – when Erwin's and Jon Gunn's script suggests that Lonnie may not be the wholly selfless figure he's striving to be. While there isn't a lot of surprise in Jesus Revolution, there is unanticipated room for complexity and nuance and doubt, and even a number of solid jokes. Lonnie praying over lost souls was to be expected. I didn't necessarily foresee him praying over the fate of a beater car whose engine won't run.(“C'mon, Lord … you're making me look bad here … .”)

Although, running two hours on the nose, Erwin's and McCorkle's film doesn't overstay its welcome, I actually might have preferred it if the results were longer, given that the narrative arc and subplots for Joel Courtney and Anna Grace Barlow – as eventual youth-ministry founders Greg and Cathe Laurie – deserved more time to be fully fleshed out. (We hardly need more limited series these days, but four hour-long streaming episodes for this might've fit the bill nicely.) Yet it's hardly a complaint to want even more of a good thing, and Jesus Revolution is a lovely, winning thing, boasting a comically dyspeptic, ultimately moving portrayal by Grammer, a terrific late-'60s soundtrack, impressively sun-kissed cinematography by Akis Konstantakopoulos, and, of course, the irresistible, ingratiating presence of Jonathan Roumie. He may eerily resemble the Second Coming, but he's not the only element here that's Divine.

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