Cocaine Bear: Fun or Un-bear-able? [REVIEW]

The film “Cocaine Bear” is difficult to describe with a straight face. 

It is a horror comedy directed by Elizabeth Banks, whose previous directorial accolades include “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Charlie’s Angels (2019).” The title describes the premise of the film—a bear wreaking havoc while high on cocaine—with an ease that certainly attracted its early box office success

“Cocaine Bear” was a natural setup for a viral marketing campaign, which production studio Universal capitalized on through social media, such as TikTok, to entice younger audiences into the theater.

The film poster for “Cocaine Bear” has the phrase “inspired by true events” plastered across the top of it, which is a technically true statement. In 1985, drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II dropped duffel bags full of cocaine out of a plane over the southeast. He died after jumping out of the plane due to a parachute failure and his body was recovered in Knoxville, Tenn..

“Cocaine Bear” shows a factually accurate depiction of Thornton’s death and then cuts away to the rest of the film. In reality, the black bear found in the Chattahoochee National Forest immediately died after consuming the contents of one of the duffel bags. The film’s version of the bear develops a habit from the sheer amount of cocaine it consumes. The bear comes into contact with the human cast of characters as it seeks out more cocaine and satisfies its insatiable bloodlust.

The film truly takes flight with the introduction of its varied cast of characters. While portions of the film feel bloated with the addition of too many people in a movie about, lest anyone forget, a bear high on cocaine, the performances from Margo Martindale, Keri Russell and more create a sensational viewing experience.

All of the actors play the bizarre premise of the film straight, which makes the comedic payoffs to suspenseful moments all the more satisfying. Most viewers are unlikely to find any true horror in the crisp 95-minute runtime of “Cocaine Bear,” but the movie leans into absurd and gruesome killings for many of its characters that will make it an almost automatic horror comedy classic.

The most surprising feature of “Cocaine Bear” is thematic coherence. As the audience gets to know the character Sari (Keri Russell), a single mom working to support her daughter, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), they can’t help but root for her. Sari is thrown into the depths of the Cherokee National Forest with nothing but a bright pink tracksuit and the drive to find her daughter who was chased deeper into the forest by the bear. 

Meanwhile, drug dealers Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) are trying to track down the lost cocaine. As the film reaches its climax these and other characters converge on a stash of cocaine—and two bear cubs that are high on the supply. 

In a surprising twist, it is revealed that the bear is a mother trying to protect her cubs. In the climax Sari successfully protects her daughter, and Eddie realizes he needs to be present for his own son who he abandoned to carry out the cocaine recovery mission. The final action sequence further complicates things as Eddie and Daveed’s boss, kingpin Syd, which was Ray Liotta’s last performance before his passing, arrives to recover the cocaine as he realizes that his cronies will not. The bear kills Syd with ease and the happy families—yes, even the bear’s—disperse to their separate lives.

Of all of the films to require a unifying theme across its plotlines, “Cocaine Bear” probably didn’t need one. Its inclusion is a welcome surprise, nonetheless, as it makes the audience care about the protagonists toeing the line between life and death at the paws of a very angry bear.

Overall, “Cocaine Bear” delivers on fun thrills, even if it drags between setup and climatic payoff. The real cocaine bear, known as “Pablo Escobear” or “Cokey the Bear” by fans, is taxidermied and on display inside the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, KY.