July 20, 2024
Movie reviews: ‘Cocaine Bear’ is the best stoned bear movie of the year

Movie reviews: ‘Cocaine Bear’ is the best stoned bear movie of the year

COCAINE BEAR: 3 STARS

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Keri Russell in a scene from “Cocaine Bear,” directed by Elizabeth Banks. (Pat Redmond/Universal Pictures via AP)Talk about wildlife.

“Cocaine Bear,” a grisly new hybrid of “Scarface” and “Yogi Bear” starring Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Ray Liotta in his last filmed performance, and now playing in theatres, delivers on the promise of its premise. Like “Snakes on a Plane,” another movie whose entire plot was contained in the title, “Cocaine Bear” lives up to its name. There’s a bear and he is tweaked on the devil dust, but is that enough to get people in theatres, or will audiences just say no?

The movie plays fast-and-loose with the true 1985 story of a 79-kilogram American black bear who, while wandering the Georgia wilderness, stumbled across and ate a discarded duffle bag of cocaine. Later nicknamed Pablo Escobear, in real life the poor unfortunate beast overdosed immediately and spent its afterlife stuffed and on display at a local mall.

Director Elizabeth Banks uses the real-life set up as a kick off for her story. In her retelling, drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II (Matthew Rhys), in a bid to avoid police, dumps 40 kilograms of cocaine in the forests of Georgia. When the bear finds it and ingests it, instead of keeling over he becomes a character out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel, setting off on a bloody, coke fueled rampage through the forest in search of more drugs.

Along the way the Cocaine Bear (one character actually calls him that) gets her paws on a variety of folks, including a concerned mom (Keri Russell), a mob boss (Ray Liotta) and his henchmen (Alden Ehrenreich and Jackson Jr.) and a park ranger (Margo Martindale).

Before buying a ticket to “Cocaine Bear” ask yourself this question: Am I likely to enjoy a movie called “Cocaine Bear”? I can tell you authoritatively that it is the best stoned bear movie of the year. Admittedly, it is a small field, but if that turns your crank, by all means check it out.

If you need convincing, then “Cocaine Bear” may not be for you. On the fence? Read on.

The one-joke premise aside, the movie is a throwback to the slasher films of the 1980s. The gruesome stuff is outlandish, bloody and the kind of thing that you know you shouldn’t be laughing at, but here you are, laughing out loud at the misfortune of others.

Unfortunately, although there is a good vibe between Ehrenreich and Jackson Jr, most other characterization is kept to a bare minimum—many of the characters are essentially sentient slabs of bear food—and the dialogue isn’t nearly as camp or funny as it should be. It feels choppy—there is a good pun to be made here about chopping up lines of cocaine, but I’m too lazy to make it—and the gaps between the action sequences stretch on a bit too long.

However, “Cocaine Bear” has quite a few solid laughs. That makes up for the lack of satire or deeper meaning. This isn’t about anything other than truth in advertising. It’s about a bear and a bunch of cocaine and is only about 90 minutes long. If that appeals, make like the bear and snort it up.

WE HAVE A GHOST: 3 STARS

The ghost played by David Harbour in the new Netflix movie “We Have a Ghost” may not be quite as friendly as Casper, but that’s only because his life, and afterlife, were grave affairs.

An adaptation of “Ernest,” a “socially mediated ghost story” by Geoff Manaugh, originally posted in Vice, the new film begins with Frank (Anthony Mackie) looking of a new start for his family, including his lonely, guitar obsessed son Kevin (Jahi Winston). A rambling old home appears to be calling out for a new family, but there is one problem. The place is haunted by the spirit of Ernest (Harbour), a restless, bowling-shirt wearing ghost who, attracted to Kevin’s guitar playing, materializes in the home’s attic.

“You moved into the house of death?” asks Kevin’s neighbour (Isabella Russo) incredulously.

Ernest can’t speak, but the two connect, sensing the trauma that has touched each other’s lives.

When Frank finds Kevin’s video of Ernest he senses a chance to make money off the wayward spirit. He sets up a YouTube channel, and soon Ernest’s story has attracted the attention of millions of viewers, a television psychic (Jennifer Coolidge) and a C.I.A. agent (Tig Notaro) determined to get to the bottom of this ghostly story.

What begins as a way for Frank to make some quick cash becomes a heartfelt investigation into Ernest’s life before the afterlife.

“We Have a Ghost” is not really a ghost story. It’s more a story of fathers and sons, of tragedy and truth, of connection and disconnection, with a side order of the supernatural. The set-up sounds slapsticky—”There’s a ghost in the house!!”—but soon settles into its own vibe, part introspective, part bittersweet and part “Scooby-Doo.” The elements don’t all easily fit side-by-side like puzzle pieces, but Harbour binds them together with a silent performance that brings both pathos and absurdity to Ernest.

The hard shifts in tone give “We Have a Ghost” an uneven feel. It feels scattershot, as though it is trying to make up its mind about what it is trying to be. The mash-up of horror, comedy and family friendly never gels, but there are highlights like Jennifer Coolidge, who brightens things up as a parody of an ambitious television psychic.

With its teen leads, sentimental underpinnings, paranormal experiences and family dynamics, “We Have a Ghost” aims for an Amblin kind of feel. It misses the mark, but provides enough good fun—although not for the youngest members of the family—to earn a recommend.

JESUS REVOLUTION: 3 STARS

This image released by Lionsgate shows Kelsey Grammer, left, and Jonathan Roumie in a scene from “Jesus Revolution.” (Dan Anderson/Lionsgate via AP)Based on American author and pastor Greg Laurie and his book “Jesus Revolution,” the movie of the same name, now playing in theatres, is a late 1960s period piece starring Kelsey Grammar as a “square” Southern Californian pastor who embraces the era’s love and peace mantra—and the hippies who espouse it—despite the objections of his church’s elders.

When we first meet pastor Chuck Smith (Grammer) he’s very much an older man of his time. He’s befuddled by the new generation, and even his teenage daughter says he is “the very definition of square.” According to Chuck, hippies have “cast off authority, tradition, morals, cast off God,” and he wants nothing to do with them.

“When God walks in here and brings me a hippie,” he says. “I’ll ask him what it is all about.”

No sooner have the words spilled from his lips that the doorbell rings. On the stoop is Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a long-haired, charismatic hippie street preacher who says he is often told he looks like Jesus.

With Frisbee comes a message of tolerance, love and the seeds of a Jesus Youth Movement, which Time magazine called “The Jesus Revolution” in a June, 1971 cover story.

“God is saving the hippies,” says Frisbee, “and it is blowing everyone’s mind because nobody thought the hippies could be saved.”

Meanwhile, a lost teen from a broken home named Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) is seeking liberation in the counterculture movement of Southern California. His life is revolutionized when his spiritual journey brings him into the sphere of Smith and Frisbee.

Set to a soundtrack of rock hits like “Jesus Is Just Alright with Me,” “Jesus Revolution” is a faith-based movie about embracing outcasts, searching for meaning and stirring up the status quo with love and acceptance. It’s an unabashedly feel-good story that unfolds quickly, without ever missing an opportunity to use a “far out” Boomer cliché to establish the time and place.

“Jesus Revolution” is at its best in the first hour. Once past Smith’s “I hate hippies” phase Grammar has several heartfelt scenes that give the story’s message of acceptance some real gravitas.

The story wanders into the wilderness when dramatic conflict, like Frisbee’s clash of ego with Smith—”Not everything needs to be a spectacle,” Smith scolds—and Laurie’s romantic and familial issues take center stage. All stories need some sort of clash to maintain interest, but after an hour of peace and love, it feels forced.

“Jesus Revolution” is a very earnest film, with a strong point of view, that values uplift above all else.

SHARPER: 3 STARS

This image released by Apple TV+ shows Justice Smith, left, and Julianne Moore in a scene from “Sharper.” (Apple TV+ via AP)The new Apple TV+ movie “Sharper,” starring Julianne Moore, Justice Smith and Sebastian Stan, is a story of love and lies, of swindles and avarice, of plot twists and, unfortunately, despite the zig-zaggy story, predictability.

The film opens with a rom-commy meet cute between book store clerk Tom (Smith) and Sandra (Briana Middleton), a student at NYU studying Redefining Radicalism: The Rise of Black Feminism in American Literature. He asks her out for dinner, she demurs, but, like all good New York City romances, fate intervenes and they fall deeply in love.

But soon into the relationship it appears that Sandra isn’t as buttoned down as she first appears.

Welcome to the no-spoiler zone.

At this point director Benjamin Caron, best known for helming the acclaimed Benedict Cumberbatch “Sherlock” series, “The Crown” and “Andor,” goes episodic, breaking the film into sections to provide backstories for the characters and insight on their interconnecting relationships.

We meet Max (Stan), a shady character who always comes prepared with a quick line and a plan for parting some poor unsuspecting sucker with their hard-earned cash.

Moore and Lithgow play high society types Madeline and Richard. He is a self-made billionaire; she is a trophy wife with a troubled son.

Other chapters fill in Tom and Sandra’s comings-and-goings.

These seemingly unrelated characters are, of course, all closely related in a high stakes game of deception and duplicity where there will be big time winners and losers, cast aside to be forgotten about.

The film’s title refers to someone who is a gambling cheat or confidence man, and there is certainly enough of that on display, but taken in a different context, the story of “Sharper” isn’t as sharp as the literal meaning of the title might suggest. The structure is interesting, the characters compelling, if a little by-the book—there is the rich old man who falls for a beautiful younger women, the cold-as-ice conman and his emotional victims—but the multiple, crisscrossing con games on display aren’t clever enough by half to provide the payoff necessary for the movie to make an impression.

The script offers a few surprises (just don’t watch the trailer before watching the film) but the big game, the elaborate scams, feel a bit shopworn, especially if you’ve ever seen “The Sting.”

“Sharper’s” biggest con isn’t perpetrated by the characters, but by director Caron, who skillfully finds a way to string along the audience for almost two hours before leaving them empty handed in the finale.

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