Killer bear movies are a thing.
Probably the most famous is GRIZZLY (1976), which in spite of being a complete rip-off of JAWS (1975), is a highly entertaining and gory killer bear on the loose horror movie, and it made a killing at the box office back in the day. Before that you had NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966), a well-made western about a family trying to protect its farm from a marauding bear, and there have been many others over the years, films like INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE (2015) which tried and failed to be a more contemporary killer bear horror movie.
Now comes COCAINE BEAR (2023), which is loosely based on a true story from 1985, when bags of cocaine were dropped from a plane by a drug dealer who died when his parachute didn’t open, and the cocaine which landed in the forest was ingested by a black bear. This movie is very loosely based on that story, as in real life the black bear promptly died, which is what you would expect to happen to an animal after overdosing on massive amounts of cocaine. Here, the film imagines what the bear would have done had it not died, which is, go on a murderous rampage.
The movie follows a set of quirky characters as they converge in the Georgia forest and have to contend with the cocaine bear.
Two children, Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery) skip school and decide to spend the day in the forest. Dee Dee’s mom, Sari (Keri Russell) goes into the forest in search of the children. Drug dealer Syd (Ray Liotta, in his final film role) sends his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), who’s still grieving over the death of his wife, and fellow drug dealer Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) into the woods to retrieve the cocaine. A cop named Bob (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) is also in the woods searching for the drugs, and then there’s a forest ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) who is more interested in her boss Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) than helping Sari find her daughter and her friend. There are more characters as well, and they all have one thing in common: the cocaine bear!
COCAINE BEAR, as its title suggests, has all the makings of campy comedic horror classic, and that’s what I hoped this one would be.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Try as it might, COCAINE BEAR isn’t much of a black comedy. It works a bit better as a horror movie, because there are some gruesomely gory bear attack sequences, but the rest of the film isn’t serious enough for it to work completely on this level, and it doesn’t work as a comedy either because the humor isn’t even close to being sharp.
The screenplay by Jimmy Warden fails to bring any of the wide array of characters to life. They’re not well-written, we know little about them, nor is the dialogue memorable. Most of the characters are caricatures of characters we’ve seen in other movies, the generic drug dealers, a mom searching for her daughter, precocious children, etc.
Elizabeth Banks’ meandering direction doesn’t help. COCAINE BEAR has very little pacing and no momentum. Rather than building to a climax, the story just moves from one bear incident to another. Characters come and go and have their encounters with the bear, but the film doesn’t build on any of it. There’s also not a likable character in the entire movie because the characters we are supposed to like are not fleshed out, and the characters we could love to hate are dull.
Jimmy Warden also wrote the screenplay to the horror sequel BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN (2020), which I thought was pretty dreadful. COCAINE BEAR is equally as dreadful.
Elizabeth Banks, whose work as an actress I enjoy, also directed the reboot CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019), which most people hated, but I actually enjoyed. Banks’ work here with COCAINE BEAR is a mixed bag. The bear sequences are intense and scary, while the rest of the movie which was aiming for dark comedy misses its mark by a long shot.
The cast is also a combo of hits and misses.
Young Brooklyn Prince who was amazing in THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017), doesn’t get to do a whole lot here as Dee Dee other than be scared. Christian Convery fares better as Dee Dee’s friend Henry. He is able to inject a lot of personality into the role and has some of the better lines in the film, which he handles very well.
Keri Russell as mommy Sari plays things straight and as such makes very little impact here, even with her heroic stand at the end. Alden Ehrenreich, who played Han Solo in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018), makes drug dealer Eddie a sympathetic character, but he’s also a rather dull sympathetic character. O’Shea Jackson Jr. makes more of an impact as Eddie’s buddy and fellow drug dealer, Daveed. The scene where he’s jumped by three teens in a restroom is one of the more entertaining scenes in the movie.
Isiah Whitlock, Jr. has a thankless role as Bob the policeman, in a case where he is simply let down by the writing.
The same can be said for Ray Liotta as drug dealer and main villain in the movie, Syd. It’s a terribly written role, and it’s kinda too bad that this was Liotta’s final movie role. He died a week after completing work on this movie, in May 2022.
There are other quirky characters here as well, but none of them are developed. They show up for one sequence with the bear, and that’s pretty much it. Some of these sequences include a tense standoff inside the ranger’s cabin, a scene where the bear actually chases an ambulance, and a sequence where characters climb trees to escape the bear which doesn’t end well. All of these sequences have their moments, but none of them work as well as they could.
The bear itself is pretty frightening looking for a CGI creation, and the fact that it moves so quickly also helps make it scary. Interestingly, the killer bear movies I mentioned above were all about grizzly bears, while COCAINE BEAR is about a black bear, which traditionally does not attack humans, but this one does, because it’s high on cocaine.
I thought I was going to have a fun time watching COCAINE BEAR, but that simply wasn’t the case.
There’s certainly a story here to be told, an imaginative one about what might happen if a bear high on cocaine didn’t die and went on a crazy killing spree in the forest…
But sadly, COCAINE BEAR isn’t it.
I give it one and a half stars.
Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line
Three and a half stars- Excellent
Three stars – Very Good
Two and a half stars – Good
Two Stars – Fair
One and a half stars – Pretty Weak
One star- Poor
Zero stars – Awful