There’s Never Enough Cocaine Bear

Cocaine Bear!

Rarely is a title as informative as Cocaine Bear. Everything anyone needs to know is contained in those two words. And if the implied premise sounds at all preposterous, that’s alright because this is a comedy.

Inspired by true events, the movie is about the resultant rampage when a black bear consumes cocaine. Though that may be enough for some, filmmakers felt it necessary to include a little human drama too. As such, the narrative focus is split between several individuals who, for various reasons, encounter the Cocaine Bear. From hikers to drug dealers to a mother searching for lost children, there’s plenty of opportunity for mayhem.

Keri Russell hides behind a tree as the titular Cocaine Bear claws at the trunk on the opposite side.
Keri Russell encounters Cocaine Bear.

Set in 1985, the movie is wonderfully devoid of nostalgia. In an era oversaturated with sentimental references, it’s nice to see a flick that doesn’t try to manipulate the audience so cheaply. Moreover, only one moment really plays into the past and is done effectively for laughs when a string of real PSAs run back-to-back. Seeing these increasingly ludicrous anti-drug ads is sure to make audiences chuckle and groan. Still, it’s a brief moment and most of the time period comes across simply in the costume design.

The story doesn’t waste a second getting right into the matter. Oddly enough, even without reality to back it up, the film contains a bizarrely logical premise. Drug smuggler Andrew Carter Thornton II, air-dropping cocaine shipments into the United States, pitches several bags into the Chattahoochee National Forest. The way this is presented establishes that this is going to be a comedy. That’s important because it helps set expectations.

Granted, all films rely on some suspension of disbelief, but the idea of taking the Cocaine Bear storyline seriously is idiotic. Director Elizabeth Banks and writer Jimmy Warden made a wise decision embracing the absurdity of the situation. Leaning into the premise’s potential humor gives license for more outlandish moments. Yet, even at its most ridiculous, Cocaine Bear makes a strange kind of sense.

Ray Liotta and Alden Ehrenreich in the woods searching for drugs in Cocaine Bear.
Ray Liotta and Alden Ehrenreich.

This is basically a creature feature that hits the ground running. No surprise, the coke-crazed critter is the main star of the movie. Quality CGI brings the black bear to life in ways that are, at times, adorable but also utterly terrifying. Covered in blood and gore, glistening with coke sweat, the Cocaine Bear is a beast to behold.

Horror comedies are a tricky feat to accomplish. Fortunately, this feature dances the fine line fairly well. Set pieces produce violence and gore to satisfy the most bloodthirsty audiences while somehow hitting in ways comedic. Performers’ reactions are set to eleven, taking the edge off situations while giving permission to laugh. It may strike some as strange but screaming that chills the blood doesn’t sound the same as the kind calling up comedy. Cocaine Bear is great at utilizing the latter.

That said, the movie is a bit of a rollercoaster. Jokes which hit produce laugh-out-loud moments. Those that don’t bring the film way down. The comedy in Cocaine Bear is at its strongest whenever the titular coke-crazed creature is on screen. When humor is left to the human characters it often falls short.

The titular Cocaine Bear about to snort a line of drugs off a leg it just bit off someone.
This bear is about to do coke off a leg it bit off. Yeah.

There are prolonged moments when the movie starts to drag because the jokes aren’t landing. Worse, there’s nothing more tedious than stretches of dialogue that are supposed to be funny but are noticeably not. Whether this is due to poor writing or performances is hard to say.

Acting throughout Cocaine Bear seems pretty solid. Margo Martindale does a great job as a local forest ranger. This performer’s comedic timing is practically perfect. The lost children portrayed by Christian Convery and Brooklyn Prince produce some solid laughs. O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich do their parts justice, but any comedy is more what happens to them rather than any lines they deliver. Still, it’s tempting to blame this on the writing rather than performances.

Cocaine Bear suffers the most when the bear isn’t on screen. That’s when it lacks anything compelling enough to keep the audience’s attention. This is mainly because it shifts between too many different go-nowhere narratives. There’s Keri Russell as a strained single mother searching for her missing daughter. Then there’s Alden Ehrenreich as a grieving widower, now single dad, sliding into alcoholism, compelled by his father, Ray Liotta, to go into the woods to fetch the lost drugs. Isiah Whitlock Jr. is a cop there for reasons. None of these characters really get any time to develop. Though they all have a reason to be in the path of Cocaine Bear, the audience has little reason to care.

The movie is then constantly jumping from exciting Cocaine Bear insanity to Keri Russell walking in the woods. The bear attacks, then mopey Alden Ehrenreich is shuffling sadly through the woods. There are just so many obviously lost opportunities for dramatic potential if the cast of characters got cut down or tied together better. And in the rare instance dialogue tries to humorously explore someone, it just doesn’t work.

Still, no one is coming to this movie for the human drama. Audiences are here for Cocaine Bear, and they will not be disappointed. Some mediocre moments can’t detract from the absurd delight of a coke-crazed bear. I suspect this film will do best if seen with a group of friends on a sort of beer-and-a-pizza movie night. Worth seeing once, check out Cocaine Bear.

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Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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