Cocaine Bear Laced With Highs and Lows

What you see is what you get, folks. This is a movie about a coke-crazed black bear. Directed by Elizabeth Banks and written by Jimmy Warden, the story is inspired by the real events of an unfortunate bear (dubbed Pablo Escobear) in the Georgia mountains overdosing on a tremendous amount of cocaine. As in the movie, the dope was thrown out of an illicit aircraft. The pilot, a known drug smuggler, was found dead himself after his parachute failed to open. However, unlike in the movie, the bear did not murder everyone in its path. That is pure fiction, stemming from the gory imaginations of Warden and Banks.

Director: Elizabeth Banks
Producer: Elizabeth Banks, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Max Handelman, Brian Duffield, Aditya Sood, Robin Mulcahy Fisichella, Nikki Baida, Alison Small
Writer: Jimmy Warden
Cinematography: John Guleserian
Cast: Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Ray Liotta, Kristofer Hivju, Margo Martindale, Christian Convery, Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Runtime: 95 minutes
Country of Origin: USA
US Release: February 24, 2023 (Universal Pictures)


Overall that imagination – that wild abandon – is a strength. Following M3GAN on Universal’s release schedule, Cocaine Bear continues a nascent trend of original IP from a studio unbound by superheroes, fantasy adventures, or space operas. Of course we love such flicks, but there is something to be said for standalone stories.

As for the film itself, Cocaine Bear is a mixed bag of highs and lows. The performers commendably commit to the stakes of dealing with a psycho ursa; however, this clashes with the ostensible comedy of the direction and screenplay. Keri Russell, for example, convincingly conveys the terror of losing a child. Less convincing is how utterly uninterested the park ranger (Margo Martindale) is in helping. Their back-and-forth is frustrating and speaks to the film’s tonal irregularities. At times, an action-packed horror; at other times, an absurd comedy. Never, however, do these elements satisfyingly mesh as they do in say, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, where the gore is presented with campy charm. It is hard to define, but Cocaine Bear is neither campy nor charming in its presentation of violence.

Nice bear.

With that said, there are a few moments when the comedy and violence click. Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s untimely death, for example, is directed with both comedic timing and grisly carnage. Aiding the humor, is the bear itself; and those moments when it finds its beloved white powder are smile-inducing. As for the special effects, while not a genuine bear (à la 1976’s Grizzly), the CGI used to create the animal is excellent, along with numerous dismembered limbs and disemboweled organs. It is a veritable bloodbath at times, and yet… without a sense of respect for those involved (characters and bear), it can feel mean-spirited and shallow.

Therefore, in the end, Cocaine Bear offers little to discuss, let alone inspire. A lack of clear direction hinders the movie, landing it in the same confused wilderness as Lake Placid (so hey, maybe we’ll get five sequels and that crossover with M3GAN). Viewed with a group, it can deliver some laughs and fun squeamishness; but on your own, the high soon wears off leaving you indifferent. Perhaps time will brand it a minor classic of the killer animal genre, and that may be good enough for Pablo Escobear.

by Vincent S. Hannam

Bad bear.

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