Remember Snakes on a Plane? The title of that movie sold you the entire premise: “What if there were a bunch of snakes on a plane?” I didn’t necessarily say it was a good movie, but it delivered what its title promised. From the same gonzo mold comes Cocaine Bear, a bonkers B-movie that should mostly delight anyone high enough to buy a ticket.
The buzzy film hails from actor-director Elizabeth Banks, a refreshing choice for this kind of material. You can just picture the studio execs behind Pitch Perfect 2 and Charlie’s Angels saying, “we need a female director for this,” but Cocaine Bear is the kind of studio assignment that typically go to men. Banks, however, proves to be the right fit for this gory action comedy, and she actually finds the femininity in this macho premise by bringing two parallel mother-daughter stories to the surface. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had a smile on my face before the very first frame, as Banks immediately pays homage to her Wet Hot American Summer roots, and cues up a Jefferson Starship tune to set the stage for this film and its inciting incident, which, in a wild twist, is actually based on the true story of an American black bear known as “Pablo Eskobear” who ingested a duffel bag full of cocaine in 1985.
Written by Jimmy Warden, Cocaine Bear opens with a drug smuggler heaving duffel bags of cocaine out of a plane as it flies over Georgia. But before he can parachute down to retrieve the drugs, an accident kills him—it’s a death far kinder than any other in this movie.
These duffel bags of cocaine are strewn about Blood Mountain, where a humble bear finds them, and before you know it, she’s rampaging through the forest like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. Itt
Keri Russell (The Americans) leads the human ensemble, which includes The Florida Project star Brooklynn Prince as her daughter Dee Dee, Christian Convery as the girl’s friend, Margo Martindale as a horny park ranger Liz, Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Liz’s crush, Ray Liotta as a well-coiffed drug dealer named Syd, O’Shea Jackson and Alden Ehrenreich as his unlucky lackeys, Isiah Whitlock Jr. as an animal-loving cop, Kristofer Hivju as a grieving hiker, TikTok comedian Scott Seiss as a doomed paramedic, and scene-stealer Aaron Holliday as one of three young punks causing trouble in the local parks.
Russell spends the movie looking for Dee Dee, who has gone missing following an early encounter with the bear, as the drug dealers search for their missing duffel bags of coke while being tracked by Whitlock’s cop. For the most part, the cast acquits itself quite well, doing exactly what is asked of them, though these are fairly stock characters, so don’t go into this one expecting Oscar-level performances, though Holliday is hilarious, and the paramedic sequence featuring Seiss is a highlight of the film. Martindale, Ehrenreich and Convery also impress, and it’s always great to see Liotta (who died last spring), even in a ridiculous wig, though Russell is given little to do, save for her hero moment in the third act, when the bear’s two cubs also come into play.
Of course, the real star of the show here is the title character herself, and she’s entirely a CG creation, one that’s convincing enough, though I don’t think you’ll ever lose yourself in the illusion and fully believe that you’re watching a real bear. This is a man-eating monster born of visual effects, but it’s one with a personality, like King Kong or Godzilla. She seems to enjoy playing with her food, so to speak, though she’s not into direct eye contact, apparently.
The kills here are brutal, but kind of funny, like something out of the Final Destination franchise. Part of me thinks that Banks could’ve pushed the envelope even further and made them even gorier, but I’m a low-key freak like that. Generally speaking, there’s enough carnage on display here to satisfy casual gorehounds, and had Banks gone that other route, it would’ve turned Cocaine Bear into a midnight movie for genre fans, rather than the mainstream crowdpleaser that it is. It doesn’t hold back at all, but it’s still a studio movie at the end of the day, and as such, you can practically see execs’ paw prints and feel their interference late in the film, which starts to get a little choppy.
Fortunately, Banks wisely pulls the plug on this entire endeavor at the 90-minute mark, which as Goldilocks might say, is “just right” for this kind of movie. You want to get in and get out, as there’s nothing worse than a Cocaine Bear that overstays its welcome. Though I’d absolutely be down for a sequel, or perhaps a sibling entry such as Cocaine Shark, Crackhead Elephant, or Bath Salt Alligator.
The bottom line (pun intended), is that Cocaine Bear is a fun night at the movies and nothing more. If you’re looking for enlightenment or some other kind of educational value in your entertainment, you won’t find it here, just an apex predator hopped up on enough coke to fuel 100 seasons of Narcos. And that’s pretty dope if you ask me.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.