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  • Writer's pictureBen Pivoz

Cocaine Bear

A very high bear in Cocaine Bear (Distributed by Universal Pictures

Cocaine Bear is a violent thriller/comedy, extremely loosely based on the true story of a bear that overdosed on cocaine which was dropped in the Tennessee wilderness in 1985. Director Elizabeth Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden take the time period, the locale, the drug smugglers and the part where the bear eats cocaine, then they go off on their own for some wacky gags, gory bear attacks and a game cast having a great time yelling about a bear doing cocaine. The movie’s charm is partially due to the goofy set-pieces it hangs on its plot. But it is predominantly due to the idea of a bear doing lots of cocaine. It is surprising how long that remains entertaining.

After an airplane carrying several bags of cocaine goes down over Tennessee, the men responsible for the drugs track it to a state park, where they are joined by cops, a couple of kids, a desperate mom, teenage hooligans and park employees. Little do they know, there is a bear lurking. And it has a taste for cocaine.

Cocaine Bear works because Banks is always aware that she is making a comedy. The structure could have been for a horror movie. The characters are set up simply, with an obvious trait or two each so the audience knows if they want them to be eaten or not. The bear is mostly kept off-screen, popping up suddenly to terrify a prospective victim. The bear attacks can be pretty grisly and there are some jump scares. However, even the bloodiest moments are played for laughs. It works decently enough on the thriller level for the comedy to land better. Everyone making this knew exactly how silly it all was and they lean into it just the right amount.

Sari (Keri Russell) hides from the bear

At 89 minutes (plus a couple of mid-credit scenes) this is the very definition of a movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It resolves its plot (what little of it there is) and then fades to black. There is no sense of filler. The bear is established, then the characters are swiftly introduced and given a reason to enter the danger zone. After that, the attacks start, peppered with some surprisingly funny character-based jokes. The cast includes people such as O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and the late Ray Liotta mugging as though there wasn’t a bear mauling everything in sight. The straight-role goes to Keri Russell as a mom looking for her daughter that ran away to the park and even she gets some quality lines. I can easily understand why they want to be a part of this.

Cocaine Bear isn’t a perfect comedy, yet it is a really enjoyable one. Some of the violence may be a little too much and the characters are too thin to push this past solid amusement. Still, Banks has a strong enough grasp of pacing and comic timing to keep this fun the majority of the way. I’d call it a potential cult comedy, but it could end up being more popular than that distinction (though it probably won’t make a big dent at the theater, what with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania having recently been released). This is a movie that knows exactly what it wants to be and executes it precisely how one would have hoped after seeing the trailer.

3½ out of 5


Keri Russell as Sari

Alden Ehrenreich as Eddie

O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Daveed

Christian Convery as Henry

Brooklynn Prince as Dee Dee

Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Bob

Ray Liotta as Syd

Margo Martindale as Ranger Liz

Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Peter

Directed by Elizabeth Banks

Written by Jimmy Warden


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