Cocaine Bear lives up to its name by delivering a bear that does plenty of cocaine but fails to capitalize on the absurd comedy that could be mined from the premise. Cocaine Bear begs to be seen with an audience but may not be worth the price of admission if you know what you are getting yourself into.
Loosely (very loosely) based on a true story about an American Black Bear that got into a drug cartel’s cocaine stash in the 1980s, Cocaine Bear takes that kernel of reality and turns it into a ninety-minute horror, thriller, and comedy that crisscrosses far too many characters to find its footing in any genre. After a drug dealer (Matthew Rhys cameo!) launches a cocaine shipment out of a crashing airplane into a National Forest a bear comes across the cocaine and becomes the Tony Montana of bears. Cocaine Bear encounters Tormund Giantsbane from Game of Thrones and his fiancée, a mother (Keri Russel) and she lost kids, a park ranger (Margo Martindale) and her love interest, three 80s skater punks who rob tourists, a drug dealer (O’Shea Jackson) and his friend (Alden Ehrenreich), and of course the main dealer (Ray Liotta) who wants the cocaine recovered. If you are confused by all those characters, don’t worry! The movie also spends ten minutes with a pair of paramedics and an extended sequence with Isiah Whitlock Jr. trying to decide if he likes the dog he adopted.
The movie is all over the place. At times it is laugh-out-loud funny as the over-the-top gore of the bear attacks is leaned into and exploited for some truly insane sequences. At other times it is a rather slow movie working between lost kid adventure or drug dealer buddies trying to decide their place in this world. The writers just had too many cooks in the kitchen for this movie to be successful as a narrative. One must suspend their disbelief when entering a movie titled Cocaine Bear but that doesn’t mean the movie should try to be anything more than it is.
Some sequences of Cocaine Bear truly work. A park ranger (Margo Martindale), her love interest (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and a mother (Keri Russell) looking for the lost children before encountering the cocaine bear is the best part of the movie. In this section director, Elizabeth Banks blends horror, gore, and comedy into a perfect mix that shows the true potential of the movie. The image of a bear eating a man in a tree and then snorting a line of coke off of his severed leg is the pure insanity this entire movie was begging for. Unfortunately, this scene occurs very early in the film and it is almost an hour before another hilarious sequence featuring Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr. with the bear comes about and allows all the characters to show their absurd comedic timing. By the time Ray Liotta shows up on a mission to steal back his cocaine from the bear the movie is begging for the credit sequence to start and put us out of our misery.
Cocaine Bear is a mixed bag of missed potential. By no means is it terrible but it is overstuffed with far too many characters to ever amount to one truly enjoyable ride. There are moments that shine and will likely be meme’d to death and remembered once this movie finds itself on streaming but it won’t ever reach any level of cult classic worth remembering.
Written by: Dan Moran