Directed by: Elizabeth Banks
Written by: Jimmy Warden
Starring: Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Christian Convery, Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brooklynn Prince
Released: February 23, 2023
Grade: B-

Cocaine Bear

The words “inspired by true events” is doing a lot of heavy lifting on the promotional material for Cocaine Bear.  It’s the equivalent of saying Toy Story was inspired by kids playing with toys, or Star Wars was inspired by the existence of other galaxies.  The “true events” occurred back in 1985 when a 175-pound black bear was found dead in a Georgia forest.  An autopsy found “three or four grams” of cocaine in the bear’s blood stream – the source being several plastic containers containing the drug which had been dropped by a parachuter in a botched smuggling operation.  Alas, there was no one else died and there was no murderous rampage from a cocaine-fuelled bear.

This film will find an audience.  It’s reminiscent of the Samuel L. Jackson led action flick Snakes on a Plane.  It’ll be remembered more for the title than its cast and narrative.  Here, we’ve got a giant bear who stumbles across several bags of cocaine and, now that he’s got a taste for it, will kill almost anyone who gets in his way.  Framed as a horror-comedy, it’s an interesting pivot for actor-turned-director Elizabeth Banks after Pitch Perfect 2 and Charlie’s Angels.

In terms of characters, we’ve got two kids skipping school, a mum out looking for them, a pair of horny park rangers, a dog-loving police officer, some ambulance workers, a dim-witted group of thugs, and a bunch of drug dealers.  The actors bringing these folk to life include Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Alden Ehrenreich and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.  They know… and we know… no one is winning any awards for their performances.  There’s a tinge of sadness given it marks one of the final appearances of Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) who passed away in May 2022, a few months after shooting wrapped.

The screenplay is very, very average.  None of these characters are interesting or intelligent, and the illogical disregard they have for risk is tiringly repetitive.  Attempts at creating a family dynamic (in the case of the mum and kids) also feel misplaced.  Aside from a few okay jokes, the film only really works when the psychotic bear is centre stage and gorily ripping people’s limbs off (that’s an indication of the violence if you’re a bit squeamish).  We needed more of that… and less “filler” like a scene where a drug runner beats up three youths in a bathroom.

Worth a look just once, Cocaine Bear is 95-minutes of trashy, forgettable entertainment.