Review | Cocaine Bear (2023)
“Cocaine Bear is an absurd creature feature that delivers fun, laughs, and gruesome action that leaves you wanting more!”
The idea of a black bear snorting cocaine and embarking on a gruesome drug-fuelled rampage is absurd. But when you factor in that the film is loosely based on real-life events it makes for a compelling story. But when Hollywood steps in to make a big-screen adaptation of it and tasks Elizabeth Banks with delivering something special, can the story make for essential viewing? Or is Cocaine Bear a truth stranger than a fiction tale too far?
Well, Force Friends, it’s another mixed bag on this one. Cocaine Bear is an absurd creature feature that delivers mindless fun, laughs, and gruesome action. And although it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the witty comedy and killer soundtrack leave you wanting more. And that is the first stumbling block. Aside from a few glory shots, there isn’t anything of real substance to sink our teeth into. Yes, it’s a fun popcorn movie that will see you leaving the theater with a huge grin on your face. But if you’re here for compelling cinema with a profound story, look away now because this isn’t the film for you.
DRUG FUELLED RAMPAGE
To be fair, Cocaine Bear is totally self-aware and stays in its lane. It never tries to be something it isn’t and plays to its strengths. And those strengths are what brought us to the dance. We are here for a drug-crazed bear slaughtering humans left and right, and we are rewarded in spades. Limbs are flying within minutes of the opening credits and the blood-letting is always at the forefront of the story. But when all is said and done, it never feels like enough.
Right from the opening credits we are whisked back to the eighties, and as expected the opening logo is accompanied by a killer soundtrack. It sets the tone for the film we are about to see and by the time the ridiculously funny opening sequence fades away we know we are in for a bizarre and hilarious ride.
Even though the story is literally wafer-thin, it manages to stick to the true life story whilst embellishing with a creative license to ramp up the action. In fact, the opening sequence is the only true life event to take place – but it is so ridiculous you couldn’t make it up! And Banks uses it to have us splitting our sides right from the off.
Andrew C. Thornton II, a former narcotics officer, and convicted drug smuggler drops millions of dollars in cocaine from his light aircraft into Georgia’s wildlife reserve. But before he can reunite with his priceless cargo, Thornton is knocked unconscious and falls to his death before he can deploy his parachute. Then, in a strange twist of fate, a huge black bear stumbles upon the payload and chows down on the powder. What follows is a wild ride of drug smugglers trying to reclaim their cocaine before the cartel benefactors uncover the truth. All the while, the drug-crazed bear is roaming the forest for more of the drug and slaying anything that gets in its way!
Leading the impressive cast against their drug-crazed antagonist is Keri Russell’s Sari McKendry. A nurse and mother who is forced to scour the forest to find her truant daughter and her schoolmate who have skipped school to venture into the reserve. Russell delivers a stoic performance here but has nothing of substance to occupy her screen time. At the other end of the human prey is Alden Ehrenreich’s Eddie White, the drug lord’s son who is reeling from the death of his wife. And at his side is the wise-cracking Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), a fixer tasked with finding the drugs before the authorities do. All play their part to perfection with only Ehrenreich emerging ahead of the pack as the true star of the show.
The Star Wars veteran plays the role of the grief-stricken criminal to perfection. And although much of his heartache is played for laughs one cannot help but marvel at the strength of his performance. It is surprisingly layered and poignant when it has no right to be. And his witty dialogue and comedic timing are where the strength of the movie resides.
The rest of the cast is all on point, but their character development is virtually non-existent. And in truth, the screenplay doesn’t allow them to become anything more than cardboard foils for their furry antagonist. But let’s face it, at a thrifty 95 minutes, character development is the last tick on the box!
Given that Cocaine Bear serves as one of the late great Ray Liotta’s final movies, one cannot help but applaud his performance here. His screen presence is larger than life, and it only compounds his loss. He literally elevates the movie whenever he is on screen. And although he isn’t featured as much as we would all prefer – his role only serves to remind us of the talent we are now deprived of. His sleazy drug baron is hilarious at times and delivers many of the movie’s best lines.
Now onto the star of the show. The bear. Given that the movie is mostly absurd and wholly unbelievable, the bear somehow manages to outshine its human counterparts. The creature is largely created through the use of CGI. And the filmmakers have used it to create an almost cartoon-like antagonist. The beast demonstrates human-like traits that add to the hilarity and effortlessly create an icon that we can all cheer for. At times the monster stands on its hind legs and looks upon its human prey with pure disdain. And the combination gives it character.
The bear is still essentially portrayed as a mindless monster. But when all is said and done the tongue-in-cheek approach delivers a memorable monster that we can all adore…and fear! And that is the hallmark of a great team of creatives. At times the CGI is a little lazy, and the motion capture is a little cumbersome. But these are small detractions from what is otherwise a memorable screen creature.
By now it should be abundantly clear that Cocaine Bear is a laugh-out-loud rollercoaster ride of grizzly, gruesome nonsense. The movie will never be in contention for any awards but it isn’t designed to be. It’s harmless fun and an entertaining ride that doesn’t require much thought or commitment. The eighties-centric soundtrack is an absolute blast and Mark Mothersbaugh’s punchy score adds enough clout to stick the landing.
The CGI isn’t always the best and the bear is overly cartoonish in places. Furthermore, the plot is virtually wafer-thin and the character development is almost non-existent but these are minor niggles. The balance of horror and comedy is a hard one to pull off. But Elizabeth Banks and the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have knocked this one out of the park. So, book your tickets, turn off your brain, and enjoy this over-the-top rollercoaster ride of horror and comedy. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll leave the cinema with a smile on your face. And that is the hallmark of an un-bear-lievable movie.
Cocaine Bear is released through Universal Pictures and is playing in theatres everywhere now.
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Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!