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FILM REVIEW: Cocaine Bear (2023)

Cocaine Bear - New Release Review

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Starring: Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O'Shea Jackson Jr, Ray Liotta

Written by: Jimmy Warden

Produced by: Elizabeth Banks, Brian Duffield, Max Handelman, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Matt Reilly, Aditya Sood, Christine Sun

Cinematography by: John Guleserian

Original Score by: Matt Mothersbaugh


An oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists and teens converge on a Georgia forest where a huge black bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine.


On 11 September 1985 drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II was trafficking cocaine from Colombia into the United States. After tossing 40 containers of the drug to lighten the load of his plane he opted to evacuate but died after his parachute failed. Months later on 23 December 1985 the Georgia Bureau of Investigation came across a dead black bear who had consumed around 75 pounds of cocaine. A highly expensive death, the street value of the narcotic was estimated to be around $2 million but Pablo Eskobear (as he became known as) has now been immortalised not only by being placed on display in Kentucky Fun Mall but by having a movie made about their “supposed” exploits.

Based on a spec script by Jimmy Warden the film is the definition of "loosely based on a true story". It starts in a similar way to the true story but then takes a hard right turn into the absurd as we explore a massive "what if" scenario that is as ridiculous as it is entertaining. Director Elizabeth Banks knows what the audience wants and gives it to them in a very incohesive yet fun manner. The bear is the star and all other elements are secondary. After an opening clearly inspired by the granddaddy of all creature features, 'Jaws', the film introduces the various characters/victims about to encounter our furry friend's drug fuelled wrath.

We meet single mother and nurse Sari (played by Keri Russell) who has to find her troublemaking daughter Dee Dee (played by Brooklynn Prince) and her precocious friend Henry (Christian Convery) after they bunk off school to visit the Falls in the forest park. There is also Daveed (played by O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (played by Alden Ehrenreich) who are tasked by Eddie's father Syd (played by the late Ray Liotta in one of his final big screen roles) to retrieve the drugs dropped from the plane. Rounding out the cast through other plotlines include dog loving cop Bob (played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and lovelorn Park Ranger Liz (played by Margo Martindale). Their separate storylines all converge around the titular Cocaine Bear but each character comes across as paper thin iterations of something you would expect from a Coen Brothers movie. In spite of this it is clear that the actors are under no illusions as to what they are starring in and are clearly having a blast doing so.

Although they all feel incredibly underwritten and riddled with cliché to give the illusion of characterisation, there's no mistaking that the main reason audiences will flock to see the film is to see what carnage the coked up black bear unleashes in her residential forest park. Primarily a CGI creation, the effects work quite well for the most part but there is also a schlocky quality to them that works in the film's favour as being a throwback to an age of not so successful but charming special effects. Banks doesn't shy away from violence and gore as the attacks are a glorious blend of practical and CGI that compliment each other well with one particular scene involving what can only be described as the cutest disembowelment you are ever likely to see on screen all year.

For all the abundance in mayhem there are significant tonal issues with the film. In trying to blend the elements of comedy, gore and family drama Banks constructs a film that has complete whiplash in terms of its tone. One moment you'll find yourself giggling at a bumbling character only to be wincing a moment later as that very same character is torn from limb to limb.

There is also the bubble gum pop synth score from Mark Mothersbaugh that works well at establishing the time period which is refreshingly not overdone like so many other movies and tv shows that have been doing the rounds lately. Again it gives the film an aloof vibe before Banks practically dumps a bucket bucket of entrails onto the audiences' lap. Yes it can provide a shock but in constantly doing it the film is left feeling a little uneven.

The main highlight of the film comes when the bear chases a speeding ambulance. It is ridiculous, hilarious and downright mean as the creature under the influence bounds towards the ambulance to the Depeche Mode song, 'Just Can't Get Enough'. An over the top crowd pleasing moment, it results in what will probably be one of the most memorable kills in any horror/horror adjacent film this year that shocks and induces laughter in equal measure (depending on how much glee you can take from such a thing). The only issue is that moments like these leave you wanting more like it throughout the film as it feels very stop-start as it moves from set piece to set piece.

If you go into 'Cocaine Bear' expecting something like 'The Edge' you will be bitterly disappointed but if you are willing to leave your brain at the door and embrace the manic B Movie energy of the film there is a lot to enjoy. Yes the characters are paper thin and yes they repeatedly make stupid decision after stupid decision but fundamentally Elizabeth Banks knows that the bear is the star of the show and places her at the front and centre. It'll never be an awards contender but it is most certainly a solid piece of Friday night entertainment made to be enjoyed with a crowd.

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

- Joseph McElroy

'Cocaine Bear' is currently in cinemas worldwide right now

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