While the title is pretty self-explanatory, Cocaine Bear tells the (mostly fictional) story of a black bear that ate a ton of cocaine. Inspired by true events, the film picks up in the midst of drug runner Andrew C. Thornton II (Matthew Rhys) dumping out several duffel bags, filled with cocaine, from his cargo plane before it goes down. Unfortunately for him, a minor hiccup renders him dead and he’s unable to collect the bags, opening the door for a 500lb black bear to ingest a good chunk of his supply.
Then, it’s time to RAMPAGE!
Shortly thereafter, we’re introduced to the eponymous bear and director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2; Charlie's Angels) wastes little time letting us know exactly what kind of movie this is as she indiscriminately starts picking off members of her unsurprisingly game cast in increasingly brutal and often hysterical ways. No one is truly safe, which certainly adds to the excitement as we barrel toward the end of this relatively breezy action comedy.
Outside of a bear on blow, the plot revolves around the many locals and visitors that find themselves in the bear’s warpath. There’s Sari (Keri Russell) out looking for her missing daughter (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend (Christian Convery), Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) who have been tasked by drug kingpin Syd Dentwood (Ray Liotta) with retrieving the bags, the park rangers (Margo Martindale; Jesse Tyler Ferguson) whose flirtations get interrupted by the bear’s onslaught, the paramedics (Scott Seiss; Kathyun Kim) who arrive on the scene a little too late, and, then, there’s Detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who is just trying to do his job and catch the drug dealers.
It’s certainly a colorful group of characters and the cast is effective in their respective roles, with Banks giving them plenty of comedic material to work with and the audience enough time with each to make you care about whether they get eaten or not. It is a B-movie through and through, so it’s extremely campy, and every joke doesn’t necessarily land, but there’s still more than enough to keep you laughing - and gasping - throughout.
The bear is as terrifying as she seems, but, for lack of a better word, is also kind of adorable, even when she’s at her most murderous. She’s the star of the show and she knows it. Every second the bear is on screen is a sight to behold, especially when she’s tearing someone limb from limb. The kills are big and they are bloody brutal, so be prepared. Banks also does draw clear inspiration from classics like Jaws and Jurassic Park to make the bear’s movements as scary as possible, so there are a few kills we hear rather than see, but she also does an admirable job making the bear its own monster by the film’s third act.
Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden inject a unique sense of humor and a surprising amount of heart into the film, and frequently manage to surprise in terms of both comedy and violence. They push the envelope a little further than you’d expect, but not as far as you might want, although we wouldn’t be shocked if an Unrated cut of Cocaine Bear is ultimately released on home video.
We won’t nitpick the film too much since it does deliver on what Universal promised: a bear on cocaine that kills a bunch of people. However, it would’ve been fun if the film was a pinch more violent or the body count were a tad higher, although we imagine there’s only so far you can go with inventive bear kills. The human subplots are also fine, for the most part, but they feel somewhat disjointed.
In his last film appearance, the late Ray Liotta gets a proper sendoff.
Elizabeth Banks, in her third directorial venture, makes it snow with the bloody wild, but surprisingly heartfelt Cocaine Bear. Delivering on its promise of a cocaine-fueled demon bear, gut-wrenching gore-filled kills, and an ample amount of dark comedy, Cocaine Bear is quite an entertaining time at the cinema and should be a big crowd pleaser this weekend… especially if you can handle a few gallons of spilled blood.