‘Cocaine Bear’ Movie Review
A Night on Bear Mountain
Based (rather loosely) on a true story from 1985, Cocaine Bear is about a bear that eats several duffel bags filled with, well, cocaine that had been dropped out of an airplane into the forest below before two drug runners (Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr.) can retrieve it for their boss, notorious drug kingpin Syd White (Ray Liotta). When two kids, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery), encounter said bear, Dee Dee’s mom (Keri Russell) ventures into the woods to look for them, along with Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) and environmentalist Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).
In real life, the bear died shortly and no humans were ever harmed. The movie version, however, harkens back to the creature features of old in which man’s meddling with nature results in nature striking back. If you like movies like that and perhaps wish that they had a slightly meaner streak, Cocaine Bear is the movie for you. Directed by Elizabeth Banks of all people, it shows a fair amount of directorial range from her, and I hope she makes more movies along these lines (cocaine pun). While it’s hardly meant to be taken completely seriously, I was pleasantly surprised by how straight the cast plays it for most of the movie. Even when they’re reiterating certain goofy events for emphasis, nobody ever acts like they aren’t legitimately terrified by it all. It also has some more tender moments as well, and that is also a testament to the cast being as committed as they are.
While it’s probably true that the movie has too many characters for a straightforward monster flick, I found myself surprisingly invested in them. Keri Russell’s character is nothing especially unique or interesting on paper, but she sells it, as do Brooklynn Prince as her daughter and Christian Convery as the daughter’s friend. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (son of Ice Cube) and Alden Ehrenreich are an incredibly likable duo, and the two of them get to share some of the funniest and most touching moments. Character actress Margo Martindale is always exceptional, even when she’s a silly character in a silly movie, and Ranger Liz is one of my favorite characters in the film. Jesse Tyler Ferguson of “Modern Family” and Broadway fame isn’t in the movie for an especially long time, but he does his thing as an awkward, bumbling dork capably enough to be memorable. As I’m sure we’re all aware, this was the first of a few posthumous releases for the late, great Ray Liotta. While there were reportedly meant to be more scenes with him before he tragically passed during production, he is yet another major highlight of the movie. He plays the role of the ruthless drug kingpin completely straight, no different than if he were in a serious dramatic thriller. He’s a wonderfully hateable villain, and he will be dearly missed. However, my favorite character in all of Cocaine Bear is Detective Bob, played by Spike Lee regular Isiah Whitlock Jr. He’s the officer hunting down Syd and his boys, and he really is the heart and soul of the picture. He’s just a naturally charismatic guy, and it makes his funny moments funnier and his more sincere moments more impactful.
In addition to being thoroughly profane, Cocaine Bear is also quite gory, which will always win you points from me. The opening kill is actually very intense, despite the rest of the film’s somewhat sillier tone, and I kind of liked that about it. It lets you know right away that they aren’t messing around, sort of like An American Werewolf in London. While the majority of it is played for laughs, it doesn’t deny the audience some legitimately frightening moments. We get heads caved it, limbs torn off, intestines ripped out, etc., courtesy of Weta Workshop. It’s not Lucio Fulci or Ruggero Deodato territory, but it’s fairly gnarly for a mainstream American film. I also have to give plenty of credit to the digital bear effects, also done by Weta. The titular bear is entirely CGI for obvious reasons, and it’s beautifully done. It’s photorealistic, but still full of personality, which is a tricky balance.
While Cocaine Bear hardly resembles the true events that inspired it, it’s an enjoyably demented creature feature that will win over its target audience with ease. Featuring surprisingly engaging performances and some damn good gore, it may be too silly for some, but it’s wildly successful at being a B-movie from an A-list cast and crew.
About the Creator
I’m an actor and director of stage and screen. But I also dabble in standup, and on this site, horror movie criticism. I’m just a guy who loves horror movies, and I like to share that love with the world.
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