Streaming: Cocaine Bear and the best ‘so bad they’re good’ films

Keri Russell and the eponymous Cocaine Bear.
‘Likably ludicrous’: Keri Russell and the eponymous Cocaine Bear. Universal Pictures

Streaming: Cocaine Bear and the best ‘so bad they’re good’ films

Farcical thriller Cocaine Bear – about a drugged-up bear on the loose – follows in the knowingly naff footsteps of Snakes on a Plane, Sharknado and more

There are some films that feel like a mere addendum to their trailer, and Cocaine Bear is one: an idea that sounds so good and so funny as a quick synopsis that it’s almost immaterial whether the finished film makes much of it or not. Whether or not you’ve seen Elizabeth Banks’s farcical, nominally fact-based thriller, released in cinemas in February, you’re probably aware of its one-line pitch: there’s a bear, you see, that somehow ingests a massive stash of cocaine and goes on an almighty rampage. Chaos ensues. What more do you want from a film?

As it happens, Cocaine Bear is a likably ludicrous romp – ideally suited, now that it’s available on VOD, to a Friday-night watch on the couch with a takeaway. (Perhaps you thought the premise sounded just too silly to justify a cinema trip.) But it never quite matches the zippy energy and gonzo hilarity of its trailer, and it doesn’t really try. It’s a one-joke film that considers its work done when you’ve been sufficiently amused to sit down and watch it.

That puts it in a tough category to pull off: the knowing novelty film aiming for a kind of “so bad it’s good” affection from a devoted audience, but putting a deceptive amount of care and craft into achieving that effect. That Cocaine Bear remains pretty diverting, even amusing, across its sensibly brief 95-minute running time, with enough hopped-up action sequences to keep the ball rolling, makes it a rarity. All too often, films that posit themselves as jokes wind up smug and overcalculated.

Take Snakes on a Plane, for example – prior to Cocaine Bear, the go-to example of a movie whose title did all the selling. In 2006, it cultivated an online following on the strength of its self-explanatory premise and the meme-ready promise of Samuel L Jackson yelling: “I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” But when the film arrived, word quickly got round that the airborne serpent saga had nothing else in its arsenal, and it underwhelmed at the box office. Some films are merely so bad they’re bad.

Samuel L Jackson in the ‘meme-ready’ Snakes on a Plane (2006).
Samuel L Jackson in the ‘meme-ready’ Snakes on a Plane (2006). AP Photograph: AP

What else falls into the category? Well, something about animal v human wars lends itself to the genre, as the wink-wink, straight-to-the-small-screen phenomenon of the Sharknado film franchise further proves. With their bargain-basement effects and D-list casts, their shabbiness is the punchline, though you’d have to be supremely stoned to make it through all six.

Better are the films that lure audiences in with the promise of something crummy, only to surprise us with their wit and polish. My go-to Netflix comfort watch is Burlesque. Prior to release, the prospect of Christina Aguilera and Cher in a burlesque-themed musical was a tantalising fiasco in the making, but it’s the sincerity and verve of its vintage backstage-musical tropes that has secured it an eternal camp legacy.

Cher and Christina Aguilera in Burlesque.
‘Eternal camp legacy’: Cher and Christina Aguilera in Burlesque. Allstar

As for its sleeker, nastier cousin Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven’s Las Vegas fleshtacular didn’t set out to inspire mockery, though its marketing team leaned into the irony once the excessively damning reviews started rolling in. It has emerged with the best of both worlds: some cultists treasure it as a beautiful disaster, others as a misunderstood masterpiece.

But in the annals of film’s guilty pleasures, there’s none so pure as a wholly inept film made with delusions of grandeur. Tommy Wiseau’s jaw-dropping The Room (available on the Internet Archive, though no commercial platforms would stoop to streaming it) became the holy grail of bad-film nerds entirely on its own absent merits – a chasm between ambition and achievement that tilts Wiseau’s work into the realm of the surreal. Proficient, professional schlock such as Cocaine Bear, fun as it is, can only dream of such infamy.

Juliette Danielle, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero in The Room, 2003.
Tommy Wiseau’s The Room: ‘the holy grail of
bad-film nerds’. Rex Features

Also new on streaming and DVD

De Humani Corporis Fabrica
The faint of heart need not apply – brace yourself for some of the most startlingly vivid surgery footage you’ve ever seen, including in some very delicate regions – but Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s immersive documentary trawl through the French hospital system is an astonishment. It’s equal parts a study of institutions and individual bodies weathering exhaustion and malfunction, with microscopic cameras sometimes plunging deep into the human anatomy.

The Inspection
The superbly named American writer-director Elegance Bratton debuts with a feature directly inspired by his own harrowing experiences as a gay Black man entering the US marines. It’s a solemn, stately affair, occasionally written with too heavy and declarative a hand, but thoughtful, unstinting performances – from Jeremy Pope as Bratton’s alter ego; Bokeem Woodbine as his tough drill instructor; and especially Gabrielle Union as his homophobic mother – keep it in line.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom: ‘guileless’. Samuel Goldwyn Films

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom
If you only see one Bhutanese film this year, well, it’s only going to be this one. A guileless crowdpleaser about a jaded schoolteacher transferred to a remote Himalayan village, it was given a massive profile boost by a surprise Oscar nomination last year. It’s sweet if a little thin: notwithstanding the rarity of cinema from this region on the arthouse circuit, the story adheres to a universal feelgood formula.

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