Cocaine Bear is a 2023 American comedy thriller, written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Banks. The film is based on the true story of a drug dealer’s plane crashing in the Georgian forest in 1985, a large amount of cocaine, and an unfortunate 200-pound black bear that found the illicit package – ultimately dying from the unlucky encounter long before any humans had come across the animal. However, the film takes this premise and implements its own dark humour to create an intriguing tale of drug-fueled debauchery.
As silly as the title is, Cocaine Bear is certainly designed to intrigue everyone, from hardened movie buffs to casual viewers. It’s a simple premise that entices pretty much everyone with the promise of a rampaging bear, off its face on coke, murdering everyone in a drug-induced rage. To this end, the final product does indeed deliver what it advertises, but probably not to extent that a lot of people would perhaps hope for.
At its core, Cocaine Bear is a tight character comedy, with an eclectic ensemble of characters that all find themselves in this ridiculous situation for various reasons. They are introduced over a fair chunk of the film, taking away the spotlight from the titular bear somewhat, but an amusing and engaging script ensures that this aspect doesn’t become too much of a slog.
The variety of the characters adds some outlandish substance to the provocatively silly premise and is memorable and eclectic, brought to life by a stellar cast. Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson, and Aaron Holliday in particular have great chemistry and steal the show. They are the ones that lend themselves best to the Coen Brothers-esque sense of humour on display. Most of it lands, and the majority of the runtime is genuinely funny, with characters that are enjoyable to spend time with. The rest of the ensemble cast boasts some great talent. Keri Russell, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Kristofer Hivju are all great, as is the late Ray Liotta. Margo Martindale is a joy as she usually is. The general structure of Cocaine Bear could have easily fallen apart with a lesser cast, but luckily that’s not the case here.
The horror element is satisfying enough, despite being outweighed by the comedy side of things. There are a few moments of tension peppered throughout the schlock and some impressively gory moments here and there. Most of the violent moments are sudden and visceral, designed to shock. It works well, although it’s a method that is rinsed and repeated throughout. The source of the gore is, of course, everyone’s favourite caniform, high on the devil’s candy. The bear is understandably CGI, and unfortunately, the effects look dodgy in this instance. It’s slightly distracting, but not enough to detract from proceedings.
One scene, in particular, involves an ambulance chase which is quite something. It’s a scene that suddenly kicks the entire film up a gear, and is easily the best-set piece throughout the entire runtime. Frustratingly, this serves as a reminder of how ludicrously great the finished film could have been if it had lost the stabilisers, gone all out, and embraced its absurdity wholeheartedly.
Overall, Cocaine Bear is a funny, bloody movie uninterested in taking itself too seriously. It isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be, and despite its flaws, it manages to be a stupidly entertaining horror comedy designed to keep you grinning from ear to ear from start to finish.
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