I appreciate that time has passed since this novelty film came out, but I’m going to talk about it anyway as I absolutely loved it I want to get some thoughts out of my head about it. Firstly, I want to say that it is incredibly good fun if you go into it with the right “this is an absolute piss-take of a film that considers reality to only have value if it adds to the gag”. It’s also an incredibly mind-melting experience to watch it when the person behind you is apparently convinced that it’s a documentary and is vocally complaining that the audience laughing at the comedic over-violence is being grotesquely disrespectful. Honestly, I didn’t know if I should laugh harder at them or the movie.
To clear things up, the real parts of the story are as follows: a drug smuggler called Andrew C Thornton dumped a load of cocaine over Chattahoochee National Forest from a plane, and jumped out of the plane to die on impact because the parachute failed to open. A bear then found a bunch of the cocaine packages and consumed around 42% of their own body weight of the stuff, when only around 4 grams of it was enough to give it a heart attack. That’s it, other than a quirk in Kentucky law meaning that the bear’s corpse can perform wedding ceremonies if both parties believe in it, but that isn’t touched in the film.
In the film, things start around about the same with a smuggling run going hilariously wrong because the pilot decided to down a bunch of the stuff and setting into motion one of the film’s main motifs: cocaine will fuck you up and people who deal in it are terrible. A bear then finds a bunch of it and eats enough to keep a moderately sized marketing company going for a month, but doesn’t die because that wouldn’t be funny. However, it does shift from being as lethal as a bear to on an absolute rampage with incredibly bugged-out eyes. This is handled incredibly realistically, and anyone claiming they watched it and wasn’t scared it wanted to talk to them is lying.
Humans happen because that gives us more people to see mauled to death in more interestingly overblown and slapstick ways. Rat Liotta is one of them and his pure acting chops make him the most noteworthy performance of the lot. His world-weary, no-nonsense, morally complex scumbag drug dealer character demonstrates why he’s considered one of Hollywood’s best actors, but it would be unfair to say he carries the film. Everyone involved gave it their all, which is the simplest way to explain its central trick: it knows it’s hokum but it plays it perfectly straight because it knows that just adds to the laugh.
The laughs fall into three main camps: personal moments about the inherent silliness of life’s tedium, people reacting to outrageously unexpected situations that burst into those lives, and being ripped apart by a coked-up bear. There is also the single finest ambulance chase sequence in bear-based cinema, which almost choked me to death as I struggled to control my laughter so I could breathe. This is black humor at its most well-timed and relentless, with a perfect escalation and de-escalation pattern. It also gets away with going overboard on the gore by making it clear at the start that it’s all bollocks, with a perfectly observed Wikipedia quote to start things off.
Above all, this is the bear, and the way it’s treated. The structure of the film is semi “man vs nature”, but the story itself is “nature telling the man to fuck off and leave it alone” with the bear being treated with nothing but sympathy even as it munchies down on innocent people’s faces. It is both a monster and a victim and on occasion a hero, which keeps interested well beyond where most cash-in “high-concept” stories get dull. The film also has a heart-warming family/romance story going on, similar to the gore-infused positivity of Violent Night, and plays out all the beats with a couple hundred blood packs thrown around. This is a small trend at the moment, but I like where it’s going.
This is, utterly unironically, a Treasure of a film and people out to make black comedy or outrageous riffs on real-life events should study it well. The concept is outrageous, but the work put into it is what makes it so good. It isn’t a parody or a satire, but an honest and warming shaggy-dog story that was allowed to go blissfully overboard in service to the plot. People will see it for the memes, but they will love it for itself. And for the coke-fuelled-bear-vs-ambulance chase sequence.
N.B. yeah, I know the buzz died down and I’m about 4 weeks behind the curve. I got Covid-19 and that took me out for 4 weeks, So Far! Wear a mask, get vaccinated, and try not to get hit by Covid-19 as it is not a joke.