Sometimes, a movie just knows what its audience wants. No matter the genre, if a film can do exactly what a viewer wants, it can be something special. When you deliver on exactly what you promise? Yeah, that’s a cinematic sweet spot. I’m here to tell you that Cocaine Bear does exactly that. The flick has a bonkers premise, albeit one based on a true story, and shows you everything you could hope for. On a pure entertainment level, nothing has compared to this in 2023. It represents my number one film to date, and while it’s early, I think it has a great chance of hanging on in my top ten throughout the year. It’s just that much of a twisted treat.
Cocaine Bear is an absolute blast. It makes no bones about being anything other than a zany action comedy about what happens when a bear in the woods gets into some cocaine. Hilarity and insanity ensues, with a game cast, as well as a director clearly enjoying herself, letting it all play out to the extreme. It tickled me pink from start to finish, resulting in my favorite film experience of the year so far.
Based loosely on a true event, in 1985 a drug runner’s plane accidentally ends up leaving a bunch of cocaine in the Georgia forest. Now, that would be one thing, but when a 500 pound black bear gets into the coke, things go up a notch. Not only is the bear wild for the stuff, full on addicted, but it begins to go after everyone in its path. That includes kids out on a hike in Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery), who are among the first to encounter it.
With the coked up bear on a rampage, Dee Dee’s mom Sari (Keri Russell) sets out to find her daughter, along with Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) and Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). At the same time, drug dealer Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and his best friend Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) are looking for the drugs, which belong to Eddie’s dad Syd (Ray Liotta). Throw in a police officer Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and a host of other characters, and the bear has no shortage of victims, even if it just wants more drugs.
The cast pale in comparison to the bear, but there are definitely some highlights. Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr. have fun chemistry together, with the best banter. Keri Russell is a bit of a bad ass, while Brooklynn Prince gets to continue her promising career. No one gets more than a bit of time to showcase themselves, but fans of Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Margo Martindale, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. still get something to latch on to. Supporting players, besides the aforementioned and amusing Christian Convery, include Kristofer Hivju, Kahyun Kim, J.B. Moore, Matthew Rhys, Scott Seiss, Ayoola Smart, and more. Plus, it’s a farewell to the late Ray Liotta, who is definitely having fun.
Director Elizabeth Banks and writer Jimmy Warden know the assignment here. They lean into the absurdity of it, making the bear a coked up movie monster, but somehow one you’re never rooting against. Banks never pretends that the bear is realistic, which opens up a ton of possibilities. Along with Warden, Banks gives the humans a nice jolt of personality, making them just as ridiculous, but never solely potential mauling material. Cocaine Bear is silly, for sure, but it knows how to go about it in the most effective manner. That really does make a world of difference.
Cocaine Bear is a demented delight from Elizabeth Banks that delivers literally everything that the premise promises. I loved it from start to finish and I suspect you will too. What a riot! When it comes to this cinematic drug, just say yes!