It’s a movie called Cocaine Bear. Ostensibly, it’s a film about a bear that has done a lot of cocaine, which is funny because bears don’t usually do cocaine. It’s based, wildly and in part, on a true story wherein a bear did cocaine. That’s really all you need to know about the third and best film yet from director Elizabeth Banks, but while this could’ve easily revelled in being a trash masterpiece and gotten a mild pass, Cocaine Bear goes the extra mile to engage and entertain, provided that you aren’t always concerned for the overall health of a CGI animal or find some of the gags and story developments to be in poor taste. Cocaine Bear both delivers mightily on the one joke premise promised in the title (take THAT Snakes on a Plane!), while also weaving a fun, gleefully gory, and affably potty mouthed multi-layered story around the central gag. In short, it will likely exceed the expectations of those both looking forward to and dreading this movie at the same time.
In 1985, a drug smuggling plane was about to crash while hauling what can be best described as a “shit ton” of cocaine. The poor smuggler (Matthew Rhys) landed somewhere over in Knoxville, Tennessee, but their cargo was spread out across the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, where an unlucky bear happened upon the white stuff and things got very weird. While the bear goes on a chaotic rampage trying to track down more cocaine to feed its burgeoning habit, a bunch of unlucky people come across its path.
There’s a nurse (Keri Russell) trying to track down her missing daughter (Brooklynn Prince). She’s aided by her daughter’s also accidentally coked up best friend (Christian Convery) and a lovesick, trigger happy park ranger (Margo Martindale) who’s eagerly waiting the arrival of her crush, a wildlife welfare inspector (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). The ineffective park ranger has had her hands full recently with a trio of teenage hoodlums (Aaron Holiday, J.B. Moore, and Leo Hanna) who’ve been mugging and robbing visitors. Also in the woods that day are strong willed, but conflicted Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and recently widowed and depressed Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), a pair of enforcers for a drug kingpin (Ray Liotta, in his final filmed role) sent to recover the missing cocaine. Hot on their tails is a dogged detective (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who’s perpetually worried about the welfare of the puppy he just adopted.
From the opening frames of Cocaine Bear, it’s clear that Banks is having an absolute blast. She’s directing with so much energy and gusto that even if the film relied on the single joke at its core, it would still be pleasingly entertaining. Banks’ pedal to the metal approach befits a movie where there’s arguably way too much plot going on at once, which is a clever way to revel in the overkill apparent in the overall bit. Cocaine Bear is a film that fully commits to its own insanity and excess, bringing with it an all star cast that’s willing to match the material beat for beat, with Convery, Whitlock, and Ehrenreich stealing the show in particular. There probably hasn’t been a killer animal creature feature this self-aware and purposefully silly since Deep Blue Sea over two decades ago. If you like that sort of high concept goofiness, Cocaine Bear will absolutely be up your cinematic alley.
But Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden also make the smart move to imbue all of this splat-sticky violence with a fair bit of heart and character development. Sure, the concept is fun enough, but Banks and Warden know that will only take them so far. Part of the joy to be found here comes from watching these stories and characters bounce wildly off one another in an increasingly messy and deadly situation. Some of them are contemptible, while others are easily likeable, but no matter where the story is centred at a given moment, Cocaine Bear remains engagingly watchable. It’s a horror comedy where the viewer wants the decent people to survive, the wicked to get punished, and there’s genuine incentive to care about all the bloodletting. It also makes the astute decision to make the bear itself a sympathetic character worth caring about just as much as the humans encroaching on its territory. Cocaine Bear takes itself just seriously enough for everything to hold together on more than a surface level.
The comedy generally works better than the more serious horror elements throughout Cocaine Bear, but there’s plenty of inventive kills and gore to add to the elevated B-movie vibes. The biggest asset to Banks’ genre mash-up is the film’s sense of unpredictability. One hopes from the title that they will see a bear doing cocaine. That does happen, and there are some story beats that can be seen coming from quite a distance before they arrive, but it’s always hard to tell where Cocaine Bear will be going next. As with all great films titled Cocaine Bear, one hopes that things will keep getting progressively crazier. Thankfully, Cocaine Bear lives up to its title and then some.
Cocaine Bear opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, February 24, 2023.
Join our list
Subscribe to our mailing list and get weekly updates on our latest contests, interviews, and reviews.