The Movie Waffler New to VOD - COCAINE BEAR | The Movie Waffler


A black bear goes on the rampage after developing a cocaine addiction.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Elizabeth Banks

Starring: Keri Russell, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Christian Convery, Alden Ehrenreich, Brooklynn Prince, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, Ray Liotta

Cocaine Bear poster

In 1985, drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II died when he jumped from a plane, from which he had tossed several duffel bags filled with cocaine, and his parachute failed to open. Three months later, a Black Bear was found dead in the woods of northern Georgia surrounded by 40 bags of cocaine, which it had apparently torn open and consumed.

Cocaine Bear sees director Elizabeth Banks and writer Jimmy Warden draw inspiration from the story for a comic love letter to the animal attacks sub-genre that imagines the coked-out bear rampaging through the woods and slaughtering anyone who gets in its way.

Cocaine Bear review

Thornton's name is referenced, and he's played in a brief cameo by Matthew Rhys, but that's where any comparisons to the real life case end. Instead, Cocaine Bear gives us various parties that find themselves going down to the woods and stumbling on a rather unconventional teddy bear's picnic.

Goons Daveed (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) are sent to retrieve the drugs by the latter's mobster father Syd (the late Ray Liotta, to whom the film is dedicated), the head of "The Bluegrass Conspiracy." Stumbling across the coke before them however are truant kids Henry (Christian Convery) and Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), whose childhood naivete sees them inadvertently coked out of their trees, and three local tearaways who call themselves "The Duchamps." Arriving on the scene is Dee Dee's worried mother (Keri Russell), an investigating cop (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and the park's out-of-depth ranger (Margo Martindale).

Cocaine Bear review

Banks wisely plays the premise for laughs (if your name isn't Steven Spielberg, it's probably best to aim for Piranha rather than Jaws), which has mixed results. Most of the giggles are generated by visual comedy of the "splatstick" variety, with Banks skilfully constructing manic set-pieces that pay off in unexpectedly grand guignol fashion. Limbs are torn from torsos, bodies are dragged along blacktop, and when the not-so-gentle Ben isn't causing chaos the panicky humans are accidentally shooting chunks out of each other. It's all good nasty fun in the manner of '70s drive-in classics like William Girdler's Grizzly and Day of the Animals and the '80s straight-to-video fare of Troma, complete with all the requisite tastelessness.

Attempts to generate laughs through dialogue are nowhere near as successful, meaning every time the bear is absent from screen we're left to hang out with barely defined characters whose banter isn't anywhere as sharp as it should be. Given the film's theme, there's a notable absence of memorable lines.

At the same time, Banks understands this sub-genre in a way several more serious variations on the theme, like this year's Beast, haven't. She's wise not to assume that we're going to root for the humans, and so gives us a rather sympathetic killer in the form of the bear, an impressive CG creation from the boffins at WETA. Every good animal attacks movie needs a human asshole character, the figure whose grisly (or should that be grizzly?) demise we eagerly await, and this is provided in the form of Liotta's Syd. There's a genuinely shocking piece of violence from Syd that makes us realise we can't count on any particular characters making it out of this alive, Banks taking her cues from the villains of 1940s Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello comedies, the sort of baddies who don't realise they're in a comedy.

Cocaine Bear review

There's a glaring missed opportunity to mine comedy from the premise of youngsters Henry and Dee Dee getting coked up however. Despite swallowing a whole tablespoon of charlie, Henry displays no real effects, while Dee Dee is absent from the bulk of the narrative as her mom combs the woods for her. This is a real shame as in their limited time together, Convery and Prince provide the film with some real heart and they have such a wonderful sarcastic chemistry that splitting the pair up feels like a real misstep.

Ultimately, Cocaine Bear is the sort of movie that will have you making your mind up whether or not it's for you based on its title alone. Unlike so many high concept Hollywood movies, this one gives you exactly what it promises. It is indeed about a bear getting ripped and massacring everyone in sight. Banks may be guilty of a few narrative missteps, but she's delivered on her movie's outrageous promise. She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie.

Cocaine Bear
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews