One thing about Cocaine Bear — directed by Elizabeth Banks of Pitch Perfect and The Hunger Games — is that this movie is sure to make you misbehave. It is set to hit theaters this Friday.
The movie is loosely based on a true story from 1985, when a drug smuggler dropped 800 pounds of cocaine over Tennessee. A black bear found it, ate about 75 pounds and subsequently died without being believed to have hurt anyone. The film took some liberties with the plot, as it divulges from the true story after the first five minutes, and thereafter the titular cocaine bear immediately starts killing people.
The storyline follows a handful of characters who interact with the bear, including a seemingly absent mother with her disaffected pre-teen daughter and her friend, a band of teenage hooligans, a park ranger who can’t do her job and a trio of drug smugglers with a complicated dynamic. Ray Liotta played one of these drug smugglers in his last role before his death in May 2022.
Even just from watching the trailer, it was apparent that the movie was going to be bad in a good way. Once I saw the entire movie, though, the campiness and absurdity really shone through. The dialogue feels heavy and satirical at times, almost cringeworthy, and there’s abundant physical comedy from Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and the rest of the cast.
Naturally, Cocaine Bear was bloody. Its use of over-the-top gore solidified it as a certified gross-out comedy, with limbs flying, dogs eating fingers and lots of bloodshed. While some theatergoers expressed distaste for some of the more gruesome scenes, it definitely helped the sensory-overload vibe I think Banks was going for with the film.
If there’s one place where Cocaine Bear fell short, it was in the plot progression. There were two parallel stories throughout the movie. One involves the rebellious pre-teen and her friend skipping class to hang out in the forest and the girl’s mother going to look for them to keep them safe from the bear.
The other plotline follows two drug dealers, Daveed and Eddie, sent by Syd, their leader and Eddie’s father, into the Georgia forest to recover the lost cocaine.
The film jumps back and forth between these two groups of people as they traverse the bear’s habitat. Daveed, Eddie and Syd’s arc was far more in depth with more meaningful interactions with outside characters and each other, as well as motivations and an ending that actually made sense for the film.
The storyline of the mother and children seemed almost like an afterthought — something thrown in to get the film more than 90 minutes. Scenes included to develop the mother and daughter’s relationship seemed to be written in without much thought, with a random male love interest for the mom who was mentioned maybe two times.
If there was more to show a mother’s instinct to protect her child, maybe I’d understand this storyline’s purpose. But if they had completely cut the story, the movie would have been as good, if not better with the added coherency.
Jumping back and forth between the two groups made the film feel busy, to the point where it was disorienting at times. There would be a cut from Daveed and Eddie’s story to the children, but it would only be about 30 seconds to a minute long. How much can even be said about them in that short amount of time?
The groups’ paths didn’t cross until the very end, where they all find themselves deep in a cave with a waterfall cornered by the bear and two cocaine cubs (an underrated part of the cast, might I add). Everyone manages to make it out, with the exception of Ray Liotta, who was blinded by his dedication to his drug business and eaten by the bears.
Once again, though, if you completely cut the mom and kids out of this scene, they wouldn’t have even been missed. This is a campy action movie; it didn’t really need a family aspect to it.
Other than the whiplash from the two different stories, Cocaine Bear served its purpose. It delivered on gore, action and shock factor. Watch at your own risk, and beware of bears in the woods.