The high-concept film is the most basic of Hollywood jargon, it means a film that can be explained in a sentence to pitch to an audience. Examples include Titanic – Romeo & Juliet on that boat, or Twins – Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger are twins. In this regard Elizabeth Banks' latest directorial outing could be described as The Revenant meets The Wolf of Wall Street.
Taking a very loose take on true events from the 80s where an American Black Bear ate a lot of cocaine that was thrown from a plane. Taking that concept we get a film where the bear here eats a lot of coke and goes on a bloody rampage.
Elizabeth Banks' third outing as a director might be her strongest. Far from the sure thing of Pitch Perfect 2 and the disappointment of the Charlie's Angels reboot, she shows off her style and power as a filmmaker. Banks makes short work of setting up the ensemble, a drug lord (Ray Liotta), his grieving son (Alden Ehrenreich) and his drug runner pal (O'Shea Jackson Jr), a single mother and nurse (Keri Russell), her daughter and her friend bunking from school (Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convey), a horny park ranger (Margo Martindale), a wild life expert (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and a cop on a mission to retrieve the coke (Isiah Whitlock Jr) all find themselves face to face with the titular animal.
After a funny funky prologue setting up why there's a ton of cocaine in the woods, Banks sets about letting us know that this is going to be a full throttle laugh-a-thon. It shouldn't be much of a surprise given that it's about a big bear hopped up on columbian bam bam but still, it's assuring to know that there will be a fun, sometimes very gory take on the man vs nature aspect of the film.
The CGI on the bear is particularly impressive, giving the bear an amount of personality without ever going too far into the absurd. You get a feel for it's weight and the danger it poses, occasionally leading to jumps scares that Banks times as well as the slapstick gags. Those with weak stomachs should avoid this film, there's limb lopping, face munching and death on a gurney that will leave even the most hardened on genre fans going “ew”.
At the heart of the film is another reliably strong performance from Keri Russell as a put upon single mother trying to find her headstrong daughter. Aided for the most part by a particularly funny Christian Convey, perfectly delivering lines like “I told you that bear was fucked”. Ray Liotta in one of his final roles is also suitably slimy while O'Shea Jackson Jr and Alden Ehrenreich make for a pretty hilarious pairing.
It helps that Mark Mothersbaugh's score is the right kind of retro at times calling to mind the Carpenter scores of the era, and keeping things pumped up when the many swirling plot circles start to close in on each other.
As a high concept studio backed comedy goes, this is probably one of the strongest in a while, with an all-star cast game to play chicken in the face of an apex predator whacked on it's snout. In a sea of franchise fair and awards contenders, the movie about the drug taking bear might just be an early year highlight.