COCAINE BEAR review by Mark Walters – Elizabeth Banks directs this silly and gory romp

COCAINE BEAR review by Mark Walters – Elizabeth Banks directs this silly and gory romp

Sometimes movies come along that are simply meant to be “check your brain at the door” experiences, just a fun and campy romp not trying to say anything while entertaining you. COCAINE BEAR does carry the “based on a true story” notation, but before you go Google searching for horrifying archives of a killer bear whacked out of its mind on cocaine, know that most of this film is fictional silliness… in fact the only “true” part is about cocaine being dropped over a wooded area and never recovered. But hey, who cares, right? We came to see a bear snort cocaine and murder folks! And movie fans, you’re gonna get just that.

The film opens in 1985, with a plane flying over a wooded area in Georgia, and a clearly coked up drug runner (a mustachioed Matthew Rhys in a brief cameo) hurling duffel bags filled with bricks of cocaine out the window before jumping out himself. It’s explained later in the movie that cocaine runners sometimes did this over “safe” zones where they could retrieve it later, in the event that the plane was being tracked or going down. Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) are tasked by their boss Syd who also happens to be Eddie’s father (the late great Ray Liotta) to go find the missing bags in the woods. What they don’t know is a giant black bear got to the cocaine before them, and is now on a violent cocaine-fueled rage, and searching for more. We also meet Park Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), tour guide Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), mother Sari (Keri Russell) and daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), Dee Dee’s friend Henry (Christian Convery), and a few others who will head into the woods and match wits with our title character. Rounding out the cast is Isiah Whitlock Jr. as a detective investigating the missing cocaine. One by one they all encounter the bear, and as you can imagine, it’s not very pleasant.

COCAINE BEAR is violent and at times pretty gory and disturbing, but almost always played for laughs. Director Elizabeth Banks understands the material she’s working with here, and isn’t trying to make it anything more than what it is. Even the dialogue and characters are handled in a whimsical way and never shown to be terribly bright or deserving of hope. The kids talk like kids, acting like they know what cocaine is and one of them even claiming to have done it, all while skipping school. The park ranger is more concerned about hooking up with the tour guide than keeping her forest safe. Even a duo of paramedics that show up later in the film don’t go about anything in a smart or reasonable way. These are all fairly dumb people finding themselves in horrifying situations, which makes rooting for the bear pretty easy.

The cast is clearly having fun, and it’s great seeing folks like Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Margo Martindale playing these irreverent and unexpected personalities. Keri Russell is the only character that seems to be taking any of this seriously, desperately trying to save her school-skipping daughter, all while wearing a very 1980s track suit. Ray Liotta is the closest thing we have to an actual villain here, and toward the end he does become a less than savory character. But there’s something kind of fun and exciting in watching a story like this and knowing that anyone could get violently killed at any second.

The only weak spots in COCAINE BEAR are the pacing, which is a bit wonky at times. There are some surprisingly slow moments mixed between the carnage, and some of the carnage is oddly done off screen. I also wish the 1980s setting would ave been played up more, as at times it’s easy to forget this is not a modern tale, and there are only minor indications this is meant to be a period piece. There are some truly inspired bits peppered throughout that almost take the movie into a more surreal territory, and I wonder if they could have played those ideas up even more, creating an almost drugged out perspective of the events unfolding on screen.

This is not a great or even memorable movie by any means, but it’s a fun flick you can enjoy with friends and laugh at. Even folks who hate horror films would likely enjoy this for what it is, as it’s never so serious as to actually be scary. I also appreciated the short 95-minute run time, and the amusing mid-credits scenes. If you’re looking for a remedy to overlong heavy-handed cinema, COCAINE BEAR is a welcome treat.

COCAINE BEAR opens February 24, 2023

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.