Film Review: Cocaine Bear (2023)

As you venture into the woods, prepare to be surprised by Elizabeth Banks‘ horror comedy Cocaine Bear. This is not your typical Teddy Bear’s picnic, but a rampage of nature seeking revenge on humanity. The film is an anarchic, grizzly feature that offers escapism, albeit a highly absurd one.

Banks takes a risk with this film, having directed only three other films, including a segment in the comedy anthology Movie 43 (Charlies Angels and Pitch Perfect 2 the other two). However, the reactions from both cinephiles and critics suggest that it was a risk worth taking, especially given the current societal struggles and the need for escapism.

The film takes us back almost forty years to 1985, in the Southern American state of Georgia and the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, also known as Blood Mountain. It all begins with a massive shipment of cocaine being thrown off a small airplane into the forest, and the drug trafficker parachuting out, only to meet his demise. At the same time, a large black (or brown?) bear gets its paws on one of the duffel bags.

Meanwhile, a couple of states away, the police discover the dead body of the trafficker, who is revealed to be an associate of drug kingpin Sydney White (played by Ray Liotta in his last film role). White is now trying to get his goons, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and his own son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), who is grieving for his wife’s death, to retrieve the drugs. Detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who is in charge of the dead body investigation, heads to the same forest.

In the local area, single mother and nurse Sari (Keri Russell) has disappointed her daughter Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) by taking an extra shift at work instead of painting the forest. To make up for it, she takes Dee Dee’s friend Henry (Christian Convrey) into the forest, where they stumble upon some of the drugs, and the bear finds them.

Can forest ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) protect them from the wrath of the cocaine bear?

Cocaine Bear draws inspiration from true events that occurred in 1985 in the Chattahoochee National Forest. However, it is likely that the film takes creative liberties with the story beyond the title. In reality, a 175-pound male bear, nicknamed “Pablo Escobear,” was found dead with approximately 40 opened bags and containers containing traces of cocaine. The drugs were allegedly thrown out of a plane by smuggler Andrew Thornton, who, like in the film, parachuted out of the plane but was found dead in the suburbs of Knoxville, Tennessee

Screenwriter Jimmy Warden has taken the original story as inspiration and expanded on it to create a “What if…” scenario. He even incorporated real local TV news coverage of Thornton‘s death to add authenticity to the film.

Banks delivers exactly what it promises – a film about Cocaine Bear. It plays on the familiar “human vs. animal” scenario, much like Snakes on a Plane. The film is gory, very goofy, and not at all scary – but it doesn’t need to be. I watched the film with a group of people in the cinema and one person laughed from the opening credits to the end credits. The man sitting next to me was initially quiet but eventually couldn’t stop laughing and even headbutted his popcorn in amusement

Cocaine Bear is a darkly humorous film that is both entertaining and absurd. The premise is ridiculously stupid, which may cause some viewers to laugh while leaving others scratching their heads. The film could have taken more risks, but it goes overboard with certain elements. Regardless, it is best to leave one’s brain at the box office and simply enjoy the ride.


Comedy, Horror | USA, 2023 | 15 | Cinema | 24th February 2023 | Universal Pictures | Dir. Elizabeth Banks | Keri Russell, Ray Liotta, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Originally posted at The Peoples Movies 27th February 2023 | Original review

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