Cocaine Bear


‘…Cocaine Bear does lose some buzz as the story becomes sillier and sillier, but it never outstays its welcome, with crowd-pleasing highlights and goofy black humour…’

If you go down to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in 1985, you’re sure of a big surprise… as the titular character discovers, there’s plenty to unpack in Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear, a B movie likely to do A+ business due to some slick viral marketing and an audience hunger for fast, cheesy, silly, satisfying action. Landing somewhere around a 21 Jump Street era remake of William Girdler’s Grizzly (1976) and the classic B movie elan of Piranha (1978) or even the sainted nonsense of Anaconda (1997), Cocaine Bear manages to skip the hurdles that brought Snakes on a Plane crashing down when it came to getting bums on seats; it’s more than just a set of internet-ready memes.

So what are we talking about when we talk about Cocaine Bear? While the stylings are very much retro 80’s, right down to a needle drop for Jefferson Starship’s Jane, Banks’s film skews towards teenagers who are likely to be lured by the blunt drug reference of the title. But Cocaine Bear turns out to be a tricky proposition; it’s a monster movie, but one where we pivot to sympathise with what we’re told is an ‘apex-predator, high on coke, out of its mind’ . This lovable ball of fur turns out to be, spoiler alert, a mommy bear protecting her babies, a family unit who become increasingly easy to root for as some sub-sub-Coen Bros crime-movie shenanigans unfold around them. Early on; there’s a very distressing shot of mom, having ingested a tonne of Bolivian marching powder, banging her head off a tree; surely nothing bad is going to happen to these poor little bears?

Rest assured, the bears all come out on top, but first, this put-upon mom quickly succumbs to the most powerful desire caused by cocaine; the desire to find and ingest even more cocaine, and carnage results. On the scene randos include two missing children, high on the devil’s dandruff, with their worried but resourceful mom Sari (Keri Russell) in pursuit, plus tough cop Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and inept Ranger Liz (Margot Martindale); ‘If it’s brown, lay down. If it’s black, fight back.’ is the adage mentioned here, but a full-grown bear fresh full of gak doesn’t play by any rules of engagement so you’d pretty much done if this thing catches up with you by, say, jumping through the back doors of a speeding ambulance

Also converging on the scene are a business-end ching-dealer Syd (the late Ray Liotta, going out with a bang here), plus his unfortunate son Eddie (a surprise re-union for Alden Ehrenreich with his original Han Solo team Phil Miller and Christopher Lord) and Eddie’s fixer partner Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr). There’s a tense gazebo stand-off, and also a gang of wannabe thugs who come to various gruesome ends; the grizzly gore keeps a hip edge on any potential for sweetness. After struggling in big budget movies, Ehrenrich and O’Shea (Ice-Cube’s son, no less) work well together in their comeback vehicle, and have a nice 70’s movie scuzz about their working relationship.

With White Lines saved for the closing credits. Cocaine Bear does lose a little buzz as night falls and the story becomes sillier and sillier, but it never outstays its welcome, with crowd-pleasing highlights and goofy black humour. Unlike some other bears, Cocaine Bear is a proper pop-culture icon of our time. She sure didn’t sign up for this, but protects her family, she fights her corner, and eventually sends the human race packing into the woods; Cocaine Bear vs MEGAN next please, we just can’t get enough of Cocaine Bear…




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  1. The only thing that created any interest in this film for me was when I saw Elizabeth Banks produced and directed. Her projects always have my attention. I guess she was just in the mood to do a wild-ass wild-animal film because she thinks the world needs it right about now. Perhaps she is correct…it certainly brought out a decent amount of moviegoers this weekend. Consider me squarely on the fence at this point after reading here you didn’t dislike it.

    • I’m surprised how many people have dismissed this film, I guess because it’s a cheap thrills exploitation film with a bigger budget than these things normally do. With this and MEGAN, Universal seem to have established a couple of fresh cinematic universe IP’s that audiences love, and that’s a rare thing. Me might just be getting over superhero franchises and back to single use entertainment…and Cocaine Bear is a strong female voice, and we should all be listening to her story…

  2. Growwwl. Thanks for the review! I watched the trailer and would now watch the film. Maybe we need more fun things like this in our lives, though I’d never wish to meet a drug-addled bear ever. Hurray cinema is not really real! 😅

    • That clip of the bear and the ambulance is this film in a nutshell. It’s got a playful quality, messing with expectations, not trying to do anything other than get a reaction.

    • It’s easy to dismiss, but I’d have to say the time flew in. It’s not the kinda thing that critics can write screeds about, but a good guilty pleasure particularly if you like B movie briskness.

  3. Despite your enthusiastic critique and that the drug run on which story is based started in nearby GA and swept through Loudon Co and Knoxville, and the fact the poor bears stuffed and on display in also nearby KY, and none of what’s described in the movie really happened…pass. Word is locals are flocking to cinema houses to see it and laughing like this was another version of Jackass…?

    • I hear you, and yes, I was concerned that this would be lowest common denominator stuff. The real Cocaine Bear’s story is very sad, so I’m happy that they invented a completely new story for it. But what is worth celebrating is the return of the accessible, 90 minute, funny, satisfying movie, for audiences currently underserved. Anyone flocking to movie theatres right now can only be good…

  4. This film is getting a lot of attention and I will watch it once it’s released on home video. However, that attention is coming from a lot of folk who barely watch movies and it’s a little bit of a warning sign for me. I’m pretty sure the true story would be a lot more interesting, but you have to wake the people up somehow. Snakes on a Plane is not a bar I use when picking my next film to watch haha great review, and it went the way I expected.

    • I hear you, but films like this are not for critics in general, nor comic book fans. This film is for teenagers, kids who can beat the certificate and b movie fans like myself. Yes, it’s a movie for people that want a cheesy good time, and I’m fine with that..:

        • There’s a deliberate shock value which appeals to all classes. We’re meant to be outraged, and on behalf of of innocent bears everywhere, I am. So seeing the bears come out on top is a plus for sure…

  5. Hmm. I first saw the tailer for this at Magic Mike (sorry to bring it up) and I thought it just looked completely bizarre and the kind of think I wouldn’t watch under any circumstances.

    I was expecting a thorough roasting in today’s review, but your obvious affection has given me pause….

    As you know, I have a very bad history with Bear movies. But perhaps it’s time for me to finally face the demons and go on the ride that is Cocaine Bear!

    • This IS the correct answer. I was concerned about the bear action, don’t want to see any bear in distress, but it’s not that type of movie. This is more like an affectionate pastiche of 80’s movies, and while I’ve had my own issues with bears, we all need to start afresh…

  6. I watched that trailer of the bear chasing down the ambulance. Hahahahahahahaa!
    Well, while not of huge interest to me (I don’t think I made it through Anaconda) I’ll probably give it a try if it goes free on prime. Next year some time 😀

    But bears killing people is of definite interest to me…

    • I genuinely couldn’t see the join. Georgia has got all kinds of tax incentives to keep things peachy, so Ireland must have offered them a mint to film there…

  7. I’m sure I’ll see it when it’s out on DVD. The hype has been spectacular. I can understand why as it’s a premise that pushes a lot of buttons. Must have made a great pitch. The jokes pretty much write themselves. So much potential. The reviews have been pretty lukewarm thus far though.

    • Not from me. It’s a B movie, but all the better for it. No pretentions. No worldbuilding. Just gags and gore. Fun. Cinema. Enjoy.

        • That is probably true; that ambulance clip is one of the best. But this does have the knowing, postmodern dialogue that Lord and Miller seem to do well, and black comedy is rarely done well, so all in all, it’s a refreshing trip to the flicks…

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