REVIEW: “Cocaine Bear” lives up to the slasher-comedy hype

Grade: B


Photo obtained from IMDb

Despite appearing as a cash grab film with no meaning, “Cocaine Bear” was a comedic and very enjoyable movie theater experience. The comedic humor is perfectly meshed with elements of horror to create a very solid movie, even if it drags on for a little bit. But make no mistake: This isn’t strictly a comedy, as many gruesome, bloody scenes give the film its well-earned R rating. But the satisfying blend of slasher horror and shock comedy truly make “Cocaine Bear” work.

Released in theaters Feb. 24, “Cocaine Bear” instantly brought laughs to its viewers. The film’s premise is very loosely based off of a true story from 1985, when drug dealers in Tennessee dropped a massive stash of cocaine from their plane while crash-landing in the wilderness over northern Georgia. Months later, authorities discovered a black bear found dead, and the cause of death was noted to be the consumption of 75 pounds of cocaine. This bizarre story became very popular, as the bear’s body was displayed at a Kentucky mall to be ridiculed by many. Now, 36 years after this groundbreaking event occurred, Universal Pictures announced that they were adapting the story into a movie, directed by Elizabeth Banks.

Despite being based on elements a true story, the fate of “Pablo EskoBear” in the film drastically exaggerates what happened in real life. Rather than being fatal, in Banks’ “Cocaine Bear,” the drugs only made the bear more lethal, powering it as it roves the woods searching for even more cocaine and ravages anybody that steps in her way, claiming Park Rangers and paramedics as victims.

Random people who happen to be in the same woods cross fates with the drug-addled animal, in scenarios that feel contrived but just enough to give them an excuse to come across the title character. In one scenario, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery), set out on a hike before being separated, where Dee Dee’s mother (Keri Russell) entered the woods after she discovered her daughter skipped school to go paint a waterfall, a promise her mom broke so she can spend time with a coworker in Nashville. Meanwhile, two addict best friends, Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) are on the hunt for a duffel bag of cocaine left behind, where they realize that cocaine has sent them to rock bottom. Both parties’ journeys are filled with stabbings, encounters with authorities and memorable and comedic moments littered throughout.

The movie’s main villain is Syd, played by the late Ray Liotta, whom the movie is posthumously dedicated to. Syd is Eddie’s father, and also the one who brought the best friends into the drug world. Later on, Eddie and Daveed realize he’s the one who tore through their families and ruined relationships. 

An impressive part about the movie is that outside of Liotta, none of these actors are necessarily current household names. Yet Prince, Convery, Russell, Ehrenreich and Jackson all deliver outstanding performances. They show strong chemistry between each other, and all perform well.

O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s turn as Daveed is a standout performance. One of the cocaine addicts, Daveed is very violent at times; getting involved in stabbings and carrying a gun. He asserts in the early stages of the film that he’s not here to play games; get in his way, and he’ll get chippy with you. Other great acting jobs in reduced roles: Aaron Holiday playing a frightened cocaine addict who was responsible for leaving the cocaine in the woods, as well as Margo Martindale and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as two of the Park Rangers on duty.

The movie is filled with hysterical clips, but some of the humor was taken a bit too far. The start of the movie is overflowing with funny but fruitless bear scenes, yet doesn’t fully develop the plot, instead focusing on generating laughter. It doesn’t fail at that, but it also feels like you’re watching an hour-long funny bear attacks compilation and eventually starts to drag on for far too long. I was initially worried the movie’s end would be disappointing, but this was not the case. “Cocaine Bear” is 95 minutes of well-orchestrated humor and horror, but I feel some of that time could’ve been devoted to creating more depth in the plotlines.

Possibly the most intriguing part of the film is that this could have been Banks’ make-or-break moment for her career. This was the third movie she directed and her most recent film “Charlie’s Angels” massively flopped at the box office in 2019. For her, this hilarious and goofy premise was critical for her career.

“Cocaine Bear” is not just some ridiculous idea serving as a cash grab. It’s a legitimately funny, violent yet still satisfying film. Containing chopped off fingers, wild bear attacks and lots and lots of cocaine mixed with perfect humor, “Cocaine Bear” is a treat in theaters right now.