Review: ‘Cocaine Bear’ roars with irreverent humor and outrageous kills

cocaine bear
Image via Universal

In September 1985, a plane carrying about $14 million worth of cocaine started dumping its payload over Chattahoochee National Forest in Northern Georgia. Eventually, the remnants of the plane, its pilot (Andrew Carter Thornton II, also known as “The Cocaine Cowboy”), and the cocaine itself would be found. Although most of it was intact when it dropped, it wasn’t left entirely untouched.

A black bear, sadly, found the coke, and after ingesting it passed away. In real life, that’s where the story of Cocaine Bear ends. In Elizabeth Banks’s latest release, it’s the beginning of a drug-fueled killing rampage as well as a weird, Magnolia-like journey as we follow a group of very distinct and different characters connected by the titular bear. It’s a fun – but mostly one-note – ride that proves that even an hour and change is pushing it for such a flimsy but promising premise.

After we see Thornton (Matthew Rhys) make his fateful drop, we meet the characters who will shape the story and make up the heart of Cocaine Bear. There’s the family: single mom Sari (Keri Russell), daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), and family friend Henry (Christian Convery). Sari is trying her best, working extra hours to make ends meet and trying to have a dating life, and Dee Dee is feeling ignored and distant from her mom.

The day after the drop, Dee Dee enlists Henry to a trek into Chattahoochee National Forest to paint a waterfall — and maybe get her mom’s attention. There’s also the folks at the station, Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale, who can truly do no wrong) and the environmentally-minded Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) as well as the Duchamps, the “art-gang” obsessed with pop art and ruining Ranger Liz’s workday in the name of social disruption.

There are the criminals: notorious drug dealer Syd (Ray Liotta, in his last performance), his reluctant and grieving son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), and Eddie’s former best friend Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.). Syd, near-possessed in his mission to recoup all the lost coke, sends Eddie and Daveed to the forest to find it. Finally, there are the cops trying to get to the bottom of it all: Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Officer Reba (Ayoola Smart).

The movie does well to set up these characters quickly, not wasting any of its short runtime there. However, they all felt like set dressing for the real star of the show: Cocaine Bear herself (the gender reveal in the film is truly a girlboss moment). With that being said, there’s no way around one of the biggest weaknesses in the movie: the CGI and visual effects.

CB herself is a CGI creation, and while there would have been no other way to do it, she still looks a little clunky at times. The same can be said for the effects in the bloodier parts of the film. There are enough kills and moments of gore within Cocaine Bear to make it an unofficial slasher. Plenty of these harrowing moments are creative, well-paced, and generally outrageous. It’s a shame they don’t look better, and regularly use CGI as a cop-out when practical effects work would have added to the 1980s feel of the whole affair. 

Another issue that the film has is its humor. Some of the performances work, mostly what Martindale, Prince, or Convery are doing with their characters and comedic timing. It was also nice to see Liotta at work one last time, bringing some gravitas to the picture. For much of the runtime, however, some of the jokes feel like they should be in something from the early 2010s. A movie can only stretch the humor of “I F***ING LOVE COCAINE” memes so far, even if they earn a chuckle here and there. The comedy in Cocaine Bear is at its best when it’s unexpected and irreverent, and not afraid to step outside its snowy comfort zone.

Overall, Cocaine Bear is fun and irreverent, and worth checking out even if it isn’t a home-run. Your mileage may vary with regards to the concept, but at the very least, the movie has fun with its idea and gives us some chuckles along the way. It’s imperfect, but there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half. If the comedy and unhinged concept aren’t enough to sell you, it’s worth mentioning that the score, by Mark Mothersbaugh, is genuinely good. Cocaine Bear is guaranteed to give you at least a bit of a contact high, with no genuine coke necessary.

Cocaine Bear

'Cocaine Bear' almost runs its premise into the ground, but delivers some outrageous rampage sequences and laughs along the way.