To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Cocaine Bear is a horror comedy directed and produced by Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) from a screenplay written by Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter: Killer Queen). Featuring Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Christian Convery, Alden Ehrenreich, Brooklynn Prince, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, and Ray Liotta; the film is loosely inspired by the true story of the “Cocaine Bear”, an American black bear that ingested millions of dollars of lost cocaine in 1985. The story follows a mother named Sari who attempts to save her daughter Dee Dee from a coked-up female black bear in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest.
In 1985, drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II (Matthew Rhys) throws multiple duffel bags of cocaine from his plane. As he attempts to parachute out with the final bag Andrew hits his head on the doorframe knocking himself unconscious and falls to his death. His body is later found and identified by Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a local detective in Knoxville, Tennessee. Bob determines that the cocaine is likely from St. Louis drug kingpin Syd White (Ray Liotta) and that there is probably a lot more.
Meanwhile, in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest in Georgia a black bear finds one of the duffel bags and eats the cocaine inside. Also in the area are two European hikers, Elsa (Hannah Hoekstra) and her husband Olaf (Kristofer Hivju) who are on vacation. As they talk about their upcoming wedding Elsa notices the bear behaving erratically nearby. Using her binoculars, she sees it aggressively banging its head on a tree. When Olaf looks he states that the bear is just rubbing its body on the tree. When Elsa looks again the bear notices her and she decides they should leave. The bear then ferociously attacks the frantic couple and begins mauling Elsa ripping off her leg and ultimately killing her.
I was very excited to see Cocaine Bear when I heard the title and saw the first poster. This movie immediately reminded me of Snakes on a Plane because I knew what I was getting with the title alone. Seeing a movie about a bear hopped up on cocaine attacking people in a park is right up my alley. Horror and comedy is a great blend and I feel we do not get enough horror comedies these days. I am a big fan of Elizabeth Banks as an actor and her directing efforts have been solid. Seeing what kind of exaggerated tale she would weave from the real-life incident felt intriguing.
Like with many projects, I feel that this film was found in the editing room. Banks shot a bunch of scenes and tied them together in the most interesting way she could. Certain events require minor suspension of disbelief – even in a movie about a drugged-up bear. There is a character who turns out to be a mole for Syd late in the film that has zero effect on the story. The character appears, reveals their true motives, and then leaves a few scenes later. The same thing happens with Olaf reappearing later in the story only to vanish as quickly as he came. The plotline with Syd tracking down the bear for a single duffle of cocaine made no sense when there are tons of other bags scattered throughout the forest.
The cast turned in great performances and it feels like everyone was on the same page when filming. One could say the movie plays out like an extended SNL sketch. Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) play off each other well and their friendship felt believable. The same goes for Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery). While their friendship is platonic currently it does feel like the beginning of puppy love. The film marked the posthumous release of Liotta who died on May 26, 2022, with the film being dedicated to his memory. It felt like Liotta had a few more scenes to film and they had to finish the movie with what they had. This makes the ending feel a little rushed and nonsensical.
The comedy of Cocaine Bear hits very well. A lot of the humor does indeed involve the ways people die, but there is also humor in how the characters interact with each other. Also seeing the bear dance, run, and snort cocaine off of the leg of a corpse is hilarious in and of itself. That being said, I do wish that there was a little more horror throughout the movie. More of the main characters should have met a gruesome end in my opinion. Nobody likes to see kids die in movies, but Dee Dee should not have survived her initial run-in with the bear. It seemed like Banks was unwilling to make the story that dark even though many of the adults are killed in horrifying ways. I mean they did kill a lot of kids in the It movies.
Although it is a little disjointed at times there are enough funny situations, great performances and some gnarly kills to make this movie a future cult classic. I give Cocaine Bear a Solid 6.5/10. It’ll be interesting to see what project Elizabeth Banks tackles next. Hopefully she sticks with horror-comedies.