It’s hard to believe, but Cocaine Bear is actually based on a true story. In the 1980s, a narcotics police officer moonlighting as a drug smuggler called Andrew C. Thornton II was attempting to bring cocaine into the US. However, he was carrying too much in his plane, so was left with no option but to dispose of some during the flight. A black bear happened upon the package of white powder and ingested it. That bear sadly died from the, quite frankly, insane amount of cocaine. But Cocaine Bear takes this inspiration and runs wildly with it, sending the titular Cocaine Bear on a drug-fuelled murder rampage.
Starring a stellar cast including Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, Margo Martindale and, posthumously, Ray Liotta (also dedicated to his memory), Cocaine Bear is a comedy horror directed by Elizabeth Banks. That is the same Elizabeth Banks that has appeared in The Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect, The LEGO Movie and 40-Year-Old Virgin amongst many more. This is her third feature film as a director after Pitch Perfect 2 and the recent Charlie’s Angels reboot.
Set in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest in Georgia but actually filmed in Ireland, the body of Andrew C. Thornton II is found by a local detective called Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) with a small amount of cocaine. Putting two and two together, Bob surmises that the cocaine is from drug baron Syd White (Ray Liotta) and that the rest of it has gone missing. Putting two and two together, you can probably guess that the missing cocaine has been engulfed by the black bear.
The bear’s murder rampage begins with a couple on holiday taking some scenic pictures. You may recognise the male as Kristofer Hivju, or Tormund Giantsbane from Game of Thrones. Or you may not, because he has a very different appearance in Cocaine Bear.
This opening mauling sets a good tone for a direction for the rest of the film to follow. When you hear about a film where a bear ingests cocaine and then goes on a murderous rampage, you kind of expect that. Instead, Cocaine Bear introduces a ton of new characters and prioritises them over the star of the show.
We are introduced to Keri Russell’s character Sari and her daughter, Dee Dee. Dee Dee decides to skip school with her friend Henry and head into the forest to paint the waterfalls. Then there are Syd’s lackies, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) who have travelled to the forest to try and retrieve as much of the cocaine as they can. Similar too are Bob and Reba (Ayoola Smart), also trying to recover the cocaine but in the name of justice. Add to all these park rangers Liz (Margo Martindale) and Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), paramedics and a trio of delinquent youths known as the Duchamps gang, and you have plenty of fodder for the bear to rip and tear.
But what we get is a much more character driven affair. Sari spends most of her time tracking down her kids as the others go hunting down the missing cocaine, whilst the bear pops up sporadically to whittle the numbers down. The only real highlights of the bear’s destruction involves him chasing down an ambulance; the rest of the time the bear’s rampage is a bit of a bad trip.
But it is during this ambulance chase that the bear CGI is highlighted. And the verdict is, passable. It would be foolish to expect something similar to a superhero flick, so what we do get is alright for the film and budget that Cocaine Bear has.
It isn’t just the bear that puts its nose in it so to speak. A moment where the kids – Dee Dee and Henry – find some of the white powder offers a chance for some hilarious moments. The kids ingest the cocaine and that is the end of it.
And then we get the moment where we feel compassionate towards the bear. It was obviously going to happen in a story loosely based on an overdosing bear, so I don’t feel as bad for talking about the ending. A final showdown near a waterfall features the survivors and we learn that humans are the real enemies, even in Cocaine Bear.
For taking liberties, Cocaine Bear gets a 5/5. Its source material is fully ripped up once the bear ingests the cocaine, surviving the overdose and going on a rampage. What that rampage is though is a bit disappointing. It is short on horror, comedy, and humans being mauled by a bear. There are a few good moments where Cocaine Bear lives up to its billing that helps save the rest of the film, but there is far too much character development going on here. This would be all well and good in almost any other film, but not here.
We wanted blood, guts, and copious amounts of cocaine from Cocaine Bear, but whilst we get the cocaine, there is very little else.
Cocaine Bear is available from the Film & TV section of the Xbox Store