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Cocaine Bear

**1/2

by Matt Anderson

published February 23, 2023

Cocaine Bear is exactly the movie it’s advertised to be.

Flying High

It’s a wild and witty start. A drug smuggler dumps his contraband treasure flying high (literally) over the hills of Chattahoochee, Ga. and then he bangs his head as he attempts to jump out of the plane. He doesn’t survive his own incompetence.

Cut to title cards that start with a studious assessment of bears. But then the advice sounds remarkably misguided: when confronted by a bear, the best strategy is not to run, but to fight it. The source? Wikipedia.

But of course. The internet, the world’s single point of truth.

All of this sets the stage for a black bear stumbling upon some of the ditched keys and going berserk. What ensues is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes gruesome and always cheesy lark which still manages to find a curious amount of heart thanks in large part to a heartbroken drug dealer and a dog in need of a home.

And it’s “inspired” by a true story. (Wikipedia backs up that claim, so take it to the bank.)

High Times

It’s a thin story that’s strung out — so to speak — by introducing all sorts of characters and dropping them in the path of the bear, which, naturally, is purely, obviously a CGI creation.

Cocaine Bear has some of the same ambitions as another dark comedy, Game Night, but it doesn’t quite hit the same high mark. Game Night was a constant barrage of humor; some of the jokes worked, some didn’t. But even if a joke fell flat here or there, there was always another right around the corner. And it helped having well-defined characters who were endearing, each in their own way.

While it’s bearable (sorry), Cocaine Bear doesn’t maintain the same rapid-fire pace and some of the characters simply fall flat. There’s excitement as one set of characters after another is introduced, but the novelty wanes as most of them turn into one-note wonders. In snort — sorry again — in short, a lot of this horror comedy is sloppy.

Still, director Elizabeth Banks (2019’s Charlie’s Angels) keeps punching from all angles as she mines a fresh vein of opportunities for shock value. And there are plenty of nice touches, right down to captions setting the scene. Of course, there’s the obvious: “Chattahoochee, Georgia,” for example. But then there’s the funny: “St. Louis Dive Bar.”

No doubt it’s Elizabeth Banks’ clout as a writer, director and star that helped attract quality talent including Keri Russell (The Americans), Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story) and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (Straight Outta Compton). All three deserve more screen time. And, sadly, Cocaine Bear also marks Ray Liotta’s final film role.

High Society

It’s that spirit of constantly poking the bear (sigh) which makes Cocaine Bear agreeable enough, despite some of the horribly kitschy effects, such as severed limbs thrown in front of startled companions.

But there’s also a missed opportunity here.

Cocaine Bear is set in 1985 — when the core source of inspiration unfolded — and while it doesn’t take full advantage of the relative naiveté and innocence of the period, it does include some of the era’s anti-drug commercials, which featured celebrities such as Pee-wee Herman warning viewers of the dangers of drugs.

At the risk of sounding like Nancy Reagan, Cocaine Bear could’ve been smarter by making more of a distinction between the madness of the over-the-top on-screen antics and the harsh reality of cocaine’s damaging effects. But, okay, nobody’s going to take this one as a documentary. Hopefully.

As it stands, there’s a place for Cocaine Bear and its stature is sure to grow over time as a guilty pleasure and as another movie to proudly brandish the title of “cult classic.” But, given all the options out there, most people can contentedly wait until this one debuts on a far less aggressive creature, Peacock.