Cocaine Bear – Review

I love some high art but also like when blissful schlock is just as advertised. Last year gave us two of the most un-Google-able movies with Men and Nope but it looks like 2023 is the year of search-engine-optimized titles and Cocaine Bear is a hell of a start for it. If the aforementioned films are carefully crafted dishes that may not be to everyone’s taste then Cocaine Bear is that blissfully perfect dollar menu burger purchased as your DD takes you home from the bar, that one in a million that actually looks like the picture on the menu and tastes as delicious as you could possibly want it to.

The third picture from director Elizabeth Banks is a significant departure from her earlier work on paper. The original story of the unfortunately named “Pablo Eskebear” is simple: a bear ate 35 lbs of powdered bam-bam in the woods and died. Her latest film, the second to be written by Jimmy Warden, supposes that the bear lived on and unleashed a killing spree upon the comedically goofy residents near the aptly titled Blood Mountain State Park. The coke-fueled mayhem is broken up by hilarious turns from Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, and what might be the final performance of Ray Liotta. It’s a hilarious turn that’s spliced with a movie gory enough to rank the film up there with the more hilariously gruesome entries in any legacy slasher franchise.

And what a tone that is! Opening with Matthew Rhys’s hilarious death, the film then turns to a near Altman-esque series of seemingly disconnected adventures as multiple people find reasons to be in the woods with this raging ursa. Ranger Liz (Margot Martindale) is simultaneously trying to deal with a gang of bratty kids and get back in the *ahem* saddle with Peter (Jesse Tyler-Ferguson), an animal rights activist that is visiting the park. Single mom Sari (Keri Russell) is just looking for her kid, Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince), and her best friend Henry (Christian Covery) after discovering they cut school. And poor Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich)? He’s forced by his father, Syd White (Ray Liotta), to hunt for the missing coke as he grieves for his dead wife.

This murderer’s row of comedic talent understands the material they’ve been handed and manage to stick directly to it, weaving a narrative of goofballs energy into everything but anxiety to sadness. The two biggest breakouts are Prince and Covery, who delight as earnest kids that feel as real as they do heightened and silly. The most innocent thing in the film revolves around them finding a brick of cocaine, smart enough to know what it is but not mature enough to know how to handle it as they wind up spitting tablespoons of raw powder at each other. It’s charming and silly, and the childlike innocence is shattered as Henry realizes that seeing a bear hopped up on coke toss a severed limb at you might be the thing that stays with a man for life.

Banks wrangles this hyper-violent beast excellently, matching energy with cinematographer John Gulesarian (Love, Simon, Nia Dacosta’s Candyman) to grant everyone space to play with this ridiculous concept. The bear is filmed as both hero and villain, an element of chaos tossed into what otherwise might be a simple thriller about an ex-con forced into recovering product for his drug-dealer father, and the resulting hilarity is full of banger one-liners (“You’ve got a dusty beaver here, ranger.” “Yeah, trying to take care of that.”) and over-the-top gore. Makeup artist Liz Byrne is having the time of her life with some of this, creating everything from small but detailed wounds to faces scraped along concrete at 60 mph. The whole crew had a great time with this and every bit of that joy is onscreen.

While Cocaine Bear might not be the high point of cinema it makes my heart glad to see people flocking to it (the fact that it’s beating out Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania doesn’t hurt my feelings either). In a time when we’re starting to see interesting, vicious horror return to the big screen I’m glad we have something as fun as Cocaine Bear gracing our screens. This isn’t for anyone turned off by extreme violence, but those ready to just kick back with it and have a good time are going to get exactly what was advertised to them. It’s rare to see that and I applaud Banks and her crew for ponying up exactly what I was told I’d get.

Cocaine Bear is currently playing in theatres.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s