‘Cocaine Bear’ is here to deal a blow to Hollywood End-shutdown

NEW YORK — On Dec. 22, 1985, The Associated Press reported the following from Blue Ridge, Georgia:

“Investigators searching for cocaine dropped by an aerial smuggler have found a mangled shipment of the sweet-smelling powder and the remains of a bear that apparently died of a multimillion-dollar euphoria.”

The police found a sad scene. A 175-pound. a dead black bear near a duffel bag and about $2 million worth of cocaine that had been opened and scattered on a hillside. The skydiver, a former Kentucky narcotics investigator, had died when he fell in a backyard in Knoxville, Tennessee. His drone crashed into a North Carolina mountain. Back in Georgia, the bear, examiners said, had overdosed.

The story is in many ways too much. Too absurd. Also from the 80s. Even the writers of “Fast & Furious” movies would think that is over the top. The stranger-than-fiction story quickly disappeared from the headlines and, before some began fanning the “Pablo Escobear” myth, remained mostly buried in the media archives.

That changed when screenwriter Jimmy Warden handed producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller a script titled “Cocaine Bear.” They were on board from page one.

“When the movie is released, you hear the word ‘Cocaine,’ you think I’m not sure what to make of this,” Lord says. “Then when you hear the word ‘Bear,’ you say: I’m all in.”

Yes, “Cocaine Bear” is a real movie. And after it opens in theaters on Friday, it might even be a hit. Ever since the trailer for Elizabeth Banks’ comedy based very, very loosely on a true story was first released, it has stoked a rabid zeitgeist. At a time when much of Hollywood can seem packaged, the creators of “Cocaine Bear” believe it may be an untamed exception.

“Hopefully the movie lives up to the title,” Banks says, smiling. “That was the goal.”

Little on the movie calendar has captured the public imagination quite like “Cocaine Bear.” The trailer for him, viewed more than 25 million times, immediately went viral. The film, itself, is like a meme come to life: a sort of spiritual heir to “Snakes on a Plane” crossed with a Paddington Bear fever dream. Everything about it is fueled by a wry sense of humor and a “can you believe this is a real movie” wink. “I am the bear that ate cocaine”, reads one of the official tweets of the film. “This is my story.”

While most studio movies are driven by well-known intellectual property and few original comedies manage to attract theatrical audiences, “Cocaine Bear” is here to make a splash in Hollywood. “Cocaine Bear” is here to be bold. “Cocaine Bear” is here to have fun.

“You have to show theatrics to get the green light. It just means you have to swing the bat a little harder,” says Lord. “In this increasingly mechanized world, things that don’t feel mechanized have a really special value.”

In recent years, Miller and Lord have brought some of the most vibrant and irreverent films to the screen, including “The Lego Movie,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “The Mitchells vs the Machines.” They like to take apart old conventions and give them a postmodern and absurd twist.

“This movie certainly wasn’t ordered by a corporation,” says Miller, laughing. “It’s something that we sort of slip through the system. That’s how we love to make all of our movies, like, ‘I can’t believe they let us get away with it.’”

Warden had been a production assistant on his 2012 action comedy “21 Jump Street.” After learning about the 1985 story, Warden wrote the script to spec and hoped his former bosses would like it. Intrigued by the possibility of the script, the producers found an unexpectedly open reception from Universal Pictures boss Donna Langley.

“The funny thing is that we thought it would be difficult because of the theme. But surprisingly, they were excited from the start and didn’t shy away from the movie, its tone, or even its title,” says Miller. “We thought that at some point, someone was going to say, ‘Well, you can’t call him ‘Cocaine Bear.’ You have to call it ‘A Walk in the Woods’.”

Since her directorial debut on 2015’s “Pitch Perfect 2,” Banks has carved out a second career behind the camera. He last directed “Charlie’s Angels” in 2019. Backed by Universal and produced by Lord and Miller, “Cocaine Bear” struck him as not just a viable and real project, but one in which he could unite a bloody animal attack movie with comedy.

“Most people are surprised that it’s real, and very surprised that I’m the person who did it,” Banks says, laughing. “I just got a text from someone saying, ‘I’ve been hearing about this movie and had no idea you made it.’”

Although the title meant that “Cocaine Bear” would be limited on some advertising platforms, the filmmakers describe the studio as interested in leaning on what made the film different from all the options viewers are inundated with. It turned out that nothing could cut through all the noise like “Cocaine Bear.”

“They love things with a strong flavor. That’s the word I hear a lot in my marketing meetings,” Banks says. “It’s getting harder and harder to find things that are theatrically exciting. The hope was that we were doing something that people needed to get out of their house to see.”

The film, itself, takes the basis of the true story and imagines what might have happened if the bear did not die quickly, but launched into a coke-fueled national forest, terrorizing park rangers, campers and dealers. of drugs that look for the lost. shipment. After an initial taste, the bear goes after more cocaine with all the zeal of Yogi chasing a picnic basket.

The bear, named Cokie, was a CGI concoction created by Weta FX with Allen Henry, a stuntman and student of Andy Serkis, doing motion capture. He dressed all in black and walked on all fours with prosthetic arms. The rest of the cast includes Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson, and Ray Liotta. It’s one of Liotta’s last performances before his death last May, and one that ties in with his similarly cocaine-laden performance in “Goodfellas.”

“I have said that this film felt very risky. The risk was: I was never going to have the main character of the movie on the set of the movie,” Banks says. “That was really what scared me the most. If the bear didn’t work, the movie falls apart.”

Lord and Miller hope there is a growing understanding within the film industry that films that are boldly original can fill theaters. Lord points to Academy Awards favorite “Everything Everywhere All at Once” as recent proof.

“It could win best picture and it’s the craziest idea ever,” says Lord. “For the scale of that film, it’s a huge success. What we seek is to show that these films can be original, funny and surprising and can be hits.

“I can’t think of a movie that came out last year that wouldn’t have been maybe a little better if there had been a cocaine-fueled bear as part of it,” adds Miller. “Imagine if ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ had a big bear running up and biting off that guy’s fingers.”

If successful, “Cocaine Bear” could, of course, become a franchise of its own. A sequel is not ruled out. “LSD Armadillo”? “Qualude Turtle”? Banks, for now, is deferring.

“Someone will put something in the AI ​​chatbot and spit out something ridiculous and the Internet will write it for us.”


Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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