Cocaine Bear (2023): 7 out of 10: is a dark comedy thriller based on the bizarre true events surrounding a 175-pound black bear that accidentally consumed a large amount of cocaine in the Chattahoochee National Forest of Georgia. The film takes creative liberties with the actual story, intertwining a web of eccentric characters, unexpected twists, and dark humor.
In this fictionalized account, the film follows two parallel storylines. The first centers on a group of hapless criminals, led by a small-time drug lord, who attempts to smuggle a massive stash of cocaine into the United States using a small airplane. When things go awry, they’re forced to ditch the drugs in the wilderness, hoping to retrieve them later.
Simultaneously, we meet a diverse group of strangers who are camping in the forest. Unbeknownst to them, their paths will cross with the now-infamous cocaine bear. As the bear consumes the drugs, it gains an insatiable appetite for destruction, turning the once-peaceful forest into a nightmarish landscape.
As the campers struggle to survive the bear’s drug-fueled rampage, they must also contend with the criminals who have returned to retrieve their lost cargo. With tensions high, trust is in short supply, and the characters are forced to make unlikely alliances to survive the ordeal.
The Good: Let me start with a touch of praise. Good for director Elizabeth Banks. Her last film was a pretty notorious flop (Charlie’s Angels) which was compounded with a very unfortunate quote from Miss. Banks basically saying men don’t watch woman in action films. Which, per the box office, became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She basically got into an argument with some trolls and had a movie whose marketing campaign might as well been “this is the feminist manifesto in film form, no boys allowed”. (Honestly, she would be the poster girl for this foot in mouth trope had not Jennifer Lawrence proclaimed she was the first woman to be the lead in an action movie a few years later)
So after taking some classes with Jennifer Lawrence watching Aliens, T2, and Tomb Raider, Elizabeth Banks did the right thing. Instead of painting herself as a victim, she brushed herself off, faced up to the trolls, and sicced a Cocaine Bear on them. Kudos to her. It is very precarious for female directors in Hollywood. Alice Wu made a brilliant film in 2004 called Saving Face that did not set the world on fire. Her next directing job was not until 2020’s The Half of It (Netflix TV coming of age story… not as good)
I am also going to praise a TikTok personality. (Check on Hell I believe the forecast calls for flurries). Scott Seiss maybe a TikTok comedian but he is a hilarious TikTok comedian. That said, being able to do a few minutes of observational humor doesn’t necessarily lead to a good stand-up set, let alone the ability to act in a film. Here is the thing though: he is fantastic in this. Pitch perfect (Not to be confused with the Elizabeth Banks film Pitch Perfect 2).
Part of the reason is that Scott Seiss looks like he just walked out of an eighties mall. The other reason he is mugging delightfully for the camera in a dramatic and touching scene where a cocaine crazed bear mauls him and his co-workers. I rarely use the term mugging and delightful in the same sentence, but here we are. The whole setup and scene is incredibly well directed and shot and is the highlight of the film.
The Bad “Not as good as Grizzly edition.”
The Bad: There is a formula in nature gone wild movies. That the nature in question attacks every seven minutes or so. Sometimes it is a one off or a jump scare, but every seven to ten minutes we are reminded of the threat. Now this formula (Also applicable to slasher films and erotic thrillers) can be broken to great effect. But a filmmaker does so at their own risk.
Cocaine Bear suffers from a lack of well Cocaine Bear for much of the movie. And as delightful as Ray Liotta from Goodfellas or even Isiah Whitlock Jr. from The Wire are, even they are diluted by a lot of human characters that are not being mauled by a bear.
The problem is not just the lack of CGI bear on a human action. For example, there is a scene where the two kids (Brooklynn Prince, Christian Convery) find a kilo of cocaine and not knowing exactly what it is or how to use it (but unwilling to admit this to each other) they each eat a large spoonful of it to “use cocaine”. The scene is a funny piece of character development but is forgotten by the story afterwards. Having those munchkins coked up for the rest of the film could have added a little extra to the proceedings.
The bear in Grizzly takes out a helicopter. The bear in Cocaine Bear barely (sorry) takes on an ambulance. Go big or go home.
The Ugly ” Better than Grizzly II Edition”
The Ugly: Grizzly II: Revenge has some star power. With George Clooney, Laura Dern, Charlie Sheen, John Rhys-Davies, Nurse Ratched herself Louise Fletcher and Valley Girl’s Deborah Foreman. What it did not have was a decent bear. (It also spent half its runtime on a concert with such stars as British New Wave band Toto Coelo.)
Cocaine Bear’s well bear is decent. Yes, it is CGI and yes it would have been probably better to have used a mix of real bear and fake bear, but this is no Prophecy fiasco where the bear changes height by ten feet every other scene.
Still, for whatever reason, the cocaine bear itself fails to land outside of one spectacular set piece (Ambulance scene). It is an okay coked up bear. But it seems to be just there rather than the chaos unleashed promised by the title.
In Conclusion: Cocaine bear is a fun film. There is a touch of missed opportunity here. I mean, you have cocaine, the eighties and Henry Hill in your movie. I can’t help but feel you could turn the dial to eleven. But we review the movie that is rather than the one that could be and as a movie that is Cocaine Bear is a fun time.