"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Cocaine Bear

COCAINE BEAR is a kind of funny new horror comedy written by Jimmy Warden (THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN) and directed by Elizabeth Banks (Rita Repulsa in the POWER RANGERS movie). I kind of enjoyed it and I’m certainly on board for this type of movie – pretty gory, not serious about anything, spending $35 million of Universal Pictures’ money to get very good bear animation FX in what is otherwise kind of on the level of a PIRANHA or ALLIGATOR sequel.

It’s just a silly goof with a simple nature-gone-amuck premise: a drug smuggling plane dumps its payload in the Chattahoochee National Forest, a black bear finds and eats some of the cocaine, now she’s angrily rampaging around eating tourists and the people searching for the other bags. And she’ll do anything to get more of that stuff. Fiending for it like a bear to honey.

It’s pretty funny how much Banks pushes the disingenuous idea that it’s a true story by showing a real news report about Andrew C.Thornton II, a drug smuggler whose parachute failed when he abandoned his plane and he landed in a Knoxville, Tennessee driveway on September 11, 1985. Yes, a bear really did eat this man’s cocaine, but then it didn’t do jack shit to anybody. They just found the poor thing dead. So this is really more Based On Events That Would’ve Been Funny than on True Events.

The movie keeps the year, maybe so they don’t have to deal with cell phones, or as an excuse to put Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” on the soundtrack, or perhaps just for mustache purposes. Ray Liotta in his final completed role (though IMDb lists three more on the way) plays Syd, a drug lord desperate to reclaim the lost shipment before the Colombians come down on him. He wants his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich, SOLO) to take care of it, even though he quit the drug business and is mourning the recent death of his wife. Syd gets Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr., INGRID GOES WEST) to push Eddie into it, so the embark on a wacky, violent mismatched buddy road trip. They don’t know that a cop named Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr., DA 5 BLOODS) has very accurately guessed where the dead parachutist they found would’ve dumped the rest of his drugs, and is headed in the same direction.

The first people to encounter the bear besides some doomed Norwegian hikers (Kristofer Hivju [AFTER EARTH] and Hannah Hoekstra) are two little kids, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince, THE FLORIDA PROJECT) and Henry (Christian Convery, Sweet Tooth), who are playing hooky to paint a waterfall (?). There’s very little about this movie that’s genuinely transgressive, but I was surprised and amused that it’s the kids who find the coke, and that Henry (in a classic little kid lie) claims that he has done coke before, which leads to them “doing” some of it by trying to eat it. Then the bear shows up and wants in on that.

Dee Dee’s mom Sari (Keri Russell, who IMDb describes as “Actress, Felicity (1998-2002)” – not sure what that’s about, I know her from ANTLERS) figures out where she’s headed, and goes looking for her accompanied by park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale, BOBBY Z). Sari wears historically accurate white nursing shoes and a Barbie pink jumpsuit and though I bet she had a great time playing a less heavy character than usual she plays it admirably straight. She finds Henry hiding in a tree and they have to save Dee Dee, who has been dragged off to a cave.

The characters all have their wacky business they’re distracted by before running into the bear: Ranger Liz is transparently annoyed to be helping Sari because she has a crush on wildlife inspector Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and wants to be alone with him; Detective Bob is trying to adopt a dog but is uncomfortable with the prissy one they gave him; Eddie’s obviously very understandable grief shows itself in silly bits like breaking down over Jeffrey Osborne’s “On the Wings of Love” playing on the car radio. It’s another reminder of how good Ehrenreich always is, even if it’s not the best material.

The least successful characters are the Duchamps – Stache (Aaron Holliday, Sharp Objects), Vest (J.B. Moore, Young Wallander) and Ponytail (Leo Hanna) – a trio of deluded dorks with cartoon redneck accents who pass for notorious criminals in the forest. They try to mug Daveed in a public restroom, which they will regret. I was a little disappointed that Banks (who had pretty good action in her CHARLIE’S ANGELS movie) chose to just do kind of a comedy slap fight instead of real choreography. And no toilets are broken. But I do like that you can see there’s lots of piss on the floor.

Most of the characters have some funny part or line – maybe Henry gets the most laughs, being precocious with his cussing – but the star of the show is obviously the bear, and fortunately her FX by Weta are really good. She seems convincingly agitated, ramming against trees, seeming belligerent and deranged, roaring, huffing, and drooling, dried blood and snot smeared all over her maw. And they really capture the weight and strength of a bear, so it’s very menacing when she books through the woods or up a tree. Cocaine bear, bouncing here and there and everywhere, high adventure that’s beyond compare, she is the cocaine bear.

For a studio movie it’s pretty mean. The first death scene gets us laughing at Olaf and Elsa (they’re in the middle of arguing about whether or not his brother’s terrible band can play their wedding when they encounter the bear) but it’s hard to entirely brush off seeing a guy scream as his fiancee is torn to shreds by an animal. Life is cheap in this forest. We get used to laughing at the bear mauling people just to lick coke off of them. There are accidental shootings, and major bodily injuries that are taken surprisingly lightly in some cases. In the epilogue as the survivors are walking away relieved (SPOILER FOR A GREAT PART) they walk past a poor dead character smashed under a wheeled stretcher on the side of the road from an earlier catastrophe. Henry averts his eyes, then says he kinda wants to look.

My second favorite part is (SPOILER FOR MY SECOND FAVORITE PART) when the bear snorts cocaine off of a severed leg. My first favorite part (SPOILER FOR MY FIRST FAVORITE PART) is when a (cocaine) bear cub slurps up Ray Liotta’s intestine like a noodle.

The real bear ate 40 plastic containers of cocaine, and the medical examiner said its stomach was “literally packed to the brim with cocaine,” though it only absorbed 3 or 4 grams into its bloodstream. So take that as a tip. You can eat quite a bit of it before you o.d., kids. The bear was taxidermied and is on display at a mall in Lexington, Kentucky.

This event also inspired season 4 of Justified, which revolves around the missing cocaine of a smuggler who fell out of the sky in 1983. I don’t believe there were any bears involved, though.

On a basic level COCAINE BEAR does deliver on some of what was required: the bear looks cool, Banks doesn’t hold back on gore, once it gets going it keeps a pretty good pace. On the other hand, it’s not one of those movies like, say, CRAWL, that takes an elegantly simple hook and then knocks your socks off by overachieving filmatistically.

Ah, hell. I’m gonna say it. It achieves the bear minimum. There’s nothing too wrong with it, but it’s a lightly amusing and then quickly forgotten experience. Many would say that’s the best one could expect from a movie about a bear on cocaine with the title COCAINE BEAR. I disagree. Compare it, for example, to ALLIGATOR, to see how treating a knowingly silly rampaging animal movie with a straighter face and maybe some light satirical underpinnings can give something like this way more of a punch.

But maybe this is also a problem of modern entertainment. This movie is doing very well, because it was a funny idea, and they did a good job of promoting it. Had they done a poor job of promoting it, and I hadn’t seen ten thousand “ha ha, they really made a movie about a COCAINE BEAR!?” posts and articles on the computer machine over the past few months, surely I would’ve come to it fresher and found it a little more exciting. If a movie is too complicated to explain it will fail, and if it’s beautifully easy to explain they’ll run it into the ground well before opening day.

Oh well. Okay is okay. Here’s the one thing I will definitely remember about COCAINE BEAR: composer Mark Mothersbaugh (SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK) uses my favorite cheesy synth sound, Digital Native Dance, prominently in the score. I think it’s the first time I’ve heard it used during this century, and it has got to be the most expensive movie it’s ever been in.

So congratulations to all the digital natives.

Note: An earlier version of this review changed the lyrics of the Gummi Bears theme song to say “narcotic rampage that’s beyond compare,” but then I realized that the original lyric “high adventure that’s beyond compare” already fit, so I changed it. I regret the error.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 28th, 2023 at 7:04 am and is filed under Reviews, Comedy/Laffs, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “Cocaine Bear”

  1. That was a pretty strong showing. Obviously it’s no Gingerdead Man, but then I think it’s above… oh, I don’t know, the Poltergeist reboot or Fear Dot Com, what have you. But it doesn’t get anywhere near Tremors or most of the Screams and I think that’s because the commitment to bit is so inconsistent. Stuff like the ambulance sequence is great, but it also feels like it’s only there because everyone had fun dreaming it up, and then at other points they just got lazy and did whatever gets them to feature length. Cuz it’s a movie called Cocaine Bear, bruh, you don’t think it’s gonna be *good*, right?

    So 80% commitment to bit, I’d say. Maybe 70. There is some shocking laziness on display. How are you going to make one of the characters a scummy traitor and then not have them get their comeuppance? Near the end, the movie reveals the fate of one character by having the characters flashback to finding their body, like five minutes ago, instead of fitting *that* scene into the timeline.

    And man, I know she’s Zorii Bliss, but Keri Russell’s whole character feels like a walking studio note by some exec who didn’t like the idea of a movie’s heroes being a pair of drug smugglers. She’s only in the movie for ten minutes, it seems, and she spends most of that time just walking from Point A to Point B, which is something I only accept in a protagonist when they’re taking the One Ring to Mount Doom. Her big Final Girl moment is nursing a wound that another character got from a stray bullet.

    And after the climax, I guess all the characters just agree the movie’s wrapping up, because they lazily stroll away from all the carnage even tho Cocaine Bear is still out there and has no reason to stop hunting them?

    But, I’ll give Elizabeth Banks points for the restraint of making Cocaine Bear a girl and not having her hump anything. Shows discipline.

  2. I liked the Duchamp pop art gang. I thought they were a funny sub-THE WARRIORS idea for a group of wannabe tough guys. And I love scenes where bullies unwisely pick a fight with someone who punches far above their weight.

    Re Kaplan, “I’ll give Elizabeth Banks points for the restraint of making Cocaine Bear a girl and not having her hump anything. Shows discipline.”

    I respectfully challenge this statement on two points. One is that she seemed to be going after Alden Ehrenreich somewhat amorously at one point. The other is that I think restraint should preferably be absent from a movie that depicts a bear on cocaine.

  3. @Kaplan: “it doesn’t get anywhere near Tremors”
    What does, though? That’s an unrealistic level of excellence to expect out of any narrative endeavor. Hell, I’d be happy with it getting close to the first sequel.

    People have been comparing this (reasonably) to Snakes on a Plane, but yeah, what I really wanted to know was how it compared with motherfucking ALLIGATOR? Still the gold standard for silly animal amuck movies. Thanks for fielding that one, Vern. My son wants to see this, but expectations have been tempered. Sounds like the gore will keep us happy.

  4. This doesn’t even look like it’s playing the same sport as TREMORS, let alone being in the same ballpark. For me, the bar it’s gotta clear is SHARKNADO. And that’s a pretty fucking low bar so I’m probably gonna see it. I feel compelled to support any contemporary non-franchise genre theatrical presentation that has done the hard work of surgically removing the stick from its ass. Hollywood needs more absurdity, and if we have to get through some of these self-conscious meme movies to break the ice, so be it.

  5. Looking forward to catching this on PCPcock.

  6. Well, like I said, it was a strong showing. I don’t want to damn Cocaine Bear with faint praise by saying it’s better than Sharknado and I don’t want to be unreasonable and say it has to be another Jaws for it to be worth a ticket price… okay, remember Piranha 3D? THAT was a knowingly absurd monster movie that went all-fucking-out. 110% commitment to bit.

    I don’t think Cocaine Bear managed to equal Piranha 3D, though it wasn’t a waste of time by any means.

  7. “It achieves the bear minimum…”

    Not one gram more or less?

  8. This movie is the epitome of “yeah it’s sort of alright, I guess.”

    It’s like once you have a ZANY idea for a movie you don’t need to do any more work. I liked the concept and a crazed bear on coke was actually pretty cool. But the bear character was just inconsistent and why did they decide to do away with having a climax? It’s weird too that so many scuzbag characters totally got off scot free, what was the point of them? There were some funny bits and some decent gore but Jesus I feel like it the hands of a genuinely good director this could have been some kind of crazed mini-classic instead of a few rungs better than some DTV goofball shit.

  9. Yeah, pretty much.
    It gets graded on a curve, which can only help, but once the bear gets going I do think it gets genuinely fun.
    I thought the directing is fine on this one – it’s got a sense of energy even on the lousy bits I enjoyed; It’s the script that really fails the movie, mistaking crappy quirk for humor, and then making us spend way too much time wading through it.
    [SPOILERS] I actually liked the criminals and the traitor not getting their comeuppance or whatever; it fits with the movie’s gleeful amorality, and the bear’s Popeye-style resurrection and Ray Liotta’s (RIP) Savini-esque demise was enough of a climax for me (though I do agree the pacing in the last thirty minutes or so seemed really off.)

  10. I did have fun with it, I liked it okay and wasn’t bored and laughed a number of times. But man I see how this could have been actually really cool.

    I’d blame the script too but that also falls on the director, like she should have been saying “this shit don’t work.” Cause it gets a pretty decent pace for the first half and then just…stops? And now we have the bear sleeping on someone and that stuff with the cop went on forever only to end with a wet fart of a climax with him being shot. And now we just have characters being killed offscreen, new ones showing up and doing nothing and it’s like this just went to shit.

    A director with some actual style could have done something with it though, elevated it more. Vern was right comparing this to Crawl, which had LESS of a story and concept and did so much more with it.

  11. Directors with actual style have always been rare, unfortunately :(

  12. Well that’s true, but say, I wouldn’t consider Aja a great or particuarily interesting stylist, but in Crawl he kept a good pace going and had real visceral thrills. In this everything is so…basic.

  13. That’s fair.

    Was going to make a joke and blame the producers, and found out Phil Lord and Chris Miller are behind it! Huh, they usually have a much better nose (get it? because cocaine? no?) for comedy.

  14. I don’t wanna beat a dead bear. The movie came and went and we all moved on, but after finally catching up on it this morning, I really spent much of the day thinking about some of the baffling last act choices, like suddenly turning the whole thing into a movie about people walking through the woods to find their kid or retrieve drugs instead of, well, a movie about a bear on cocaine. Or how one character gets an offscreen death and five minutes later someone talks about how they found the corpse one minute ago, which is then shown as a flashback. And then I read a quote from Elizabeth Banks about how she changed the pace on purpose and took out a gory death scene, because she felt the finale should go to the emotional core of the story and audiences should leave the theatre happy instead of freaked and grossed out. And it’s just sad, because it means that the movie never had a chance. A director gets in this day and age handed the miracle of a well budgeted, major studio funded horror comedy with a bunch of really well known character actors, a fun premise that is near impossible to fuck up and is even allowed to get an R-rating! And then she thinks the whole thing would play better with the target audience if they witness a story about different kinds of parents as big finale and they would appreciate the lack of fun and gore.

    The bear was great though. She might be my favourite special effect character in a long time. A realistic looking bear that more than once acts like a cartoon character, yet works as a scary horror movie villain. What’s not to love about it? (Except for the very limited screen time.)

  15. The commentary track has one little moment that I think is indicative of why this movie doesn’t work as well as it should. Banks is talking about this one little throwaway joke and how hard she “pitched” it to get it into the movie. And it’s like, she’s the director. She had to pitch a joke in her own fuckin’ movie? What kinda bullshit is that? She’s an established name, it’s not a hugely expensive production, and it’s not a major IP that has a wildly possessive fan base or anything. This should be a case where a filmmaker is allowed to go for broke. And yet she apparently had to jump through all these hoops just to include this one joke that took all of seven seconds of screentime. No dark comedy can survive a process like that. You gotta ask permission from the suits every time you want to do anything the slightest bit edgy, you’re gonna end up with a movie that’s had all its spiky bit sanded off and is guaranteed to please no one.

  16. Not gonna lie, but I am really surprised that you actually bothered to check out the audio commentary of this.

  17. Unless I absolutely hated the movie, if I somebody went to the trouble of recording a commentary track in these dying days of physical media, I will at least try to listen to it. I can’t guarantee I’ll finish it, but I will give it a shot. I like commentary tracks. Hell, the only reason I watched some movies is so I could listen to the commentary afterward.

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