Let Cocaine Bear Mangle You at the Multiplex

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

I don’t mean to get clinical, but I’m willing to bet that a tremendous number of folks have never tried cocaine, especially before arriving at the multiplex for Cocaine Bear. If you have, awesome. Chalk it up as “to each their own.” The rest of the clean virgins for Florida Snow may watch what transpires with a complete WTF to go with the film’s own strategically-plotted WTF qualities. So, let the school teacher here educate for a hot second throughout this review to know the signs of cocaine influence, overdose, and treatment.

Hop right in. To the inexperienced, there is a range of symptoms possible for those under the influence and then, later, overdosing on cocaine. Let’s start on the low end of influence with:

  • Euphoria and a sense of confidence

  • High levels of energy and little need for sleep or food

  • Increased physical and mental sharpness

A black bear growls and inhales in Cocaine Bear
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

We’re all Dewey Cox because a good bit of that sounds amazing! Without ingesting a gram of the real Mexican Percocet, Cocaine Bear will forcefully stimulate each of those buzzy symptoms in its audience. This madcap movie from director Elizabeth Banks operates with a constant herky-jerky energy between humor and horror that slaps a skeleton of funny bones, rapid blood vessels, and other delicate nether regions of weakened constitution.

Taking steep and murderous liberties with an outlandish true story, Cocaine Bear turns back the clock to 1985 when “War on Drugs” PSAs molded every possible taboo fear for the American public. After drug dealer pilot Andrew C. Thornton II (The Americans Emmy winner Matthew Rhys) plummets to his death after unloading $14 million worth of cocaine from a plane over the Georgian woods, the one creature to find the wrapped and bagged Zip is a female black bear in the Blood Mountain (how appropriate) region of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area.

Two women and a man look up to the top of a tree in Cocaine Bear.
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

The southern bruin didn’t just lick a little smidge of Blow and get nutty. It ingested 75 pounds of Love Affair. Yes, 75! The real bear died of a heart attack with only a few grams making it into her bloodstream before becoming a taxidermy display. Cocaine Bear discards that medical result and showpiece fate and makes sure to tell as tall a tall-tale as possible. The movie is ridiculously, without shame, here to embellish the f*ck out of every possible height.

Since we’re talking about 75 pounds of the Big C, our Cocaine Bear has leaped into overdose and toxicity territory. The mental and physical challenges become much worse and morph into:

  • Chest and stomach pain, changes to heart rhythm, and rapid breathing

  • Dangerous increase in body temperature

  • Nausea, convulsions, and vomiting

  • Twitching, paranoia, confusion, high anxiety, restlessness, panic and sudden mood changes

  • Aggression, agitation, and violence

A cop and some drug dealers debate chasing a bear.
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

Cocaine toxicity’s endgame dials up heart attacks, strokes, seizures, oxygen deprivation, coma, and death. Now, the movie Cocaine Bear won’t kill you, but it’s confidently willing to wager that its grandiose gore and stalking terror might just trigger a few of those next-level symptoms in its audience. They gambled correctly.

The plane crash and the media frenzy surrounding it kicks off a scramble between colorful characters of law enforcement and the criminal underworld descending on Chattahoochee country to recover the duffel bags carrying a small fortune of valuable product. The most desperate party is a pair of drug-dealing underlings, Daveed and Eddie (O’Shea Jackson of Straight Outta Compton and Solo’s Alden Ehrenreich), working for the late Ray Liotta’s St. Louis kingpin Syd. Hot on their trail is comedy treasure Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s Detective Bob and his younger partner Reba (Ayoola Smart from Killing Eve).

Two men look over a sleeping bear to each other in Cocaine Bear
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

The arrival of these out-of-towners– and the marauding mammal herself– catches the unknowing local residents and community members in this escalating hunt. Chief among them is a single mother nurse named Sari (the top-billed Keri Russell, Rhys’s The Americans co-star) trying to track down her rebellious pre-teen daughter Dee Dee (The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince) and her dopey best friend Henry (Christian Convery of Playing With Fire) after skipping school to hike to some secret waterfall. The local park ranger (character actress supreme Margo Martindale), animal rights activist (Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and a trio of park-squatting teen delinquents (led by Aaron Holiday of Sharp Objects) also get roped into this pursuit. Hey, the body count of Cocaine Bear has to come from somewhere.

Cocaine Bear’s very first kill ignores the prevailing bear attack strategy rhyme of “If it’s brown lay down. If it’s black, fight back.” Those who cannot run fast enough lose a limb or two, only for the fever of the fresh kill replaced by the distraction of a lovely butterfly tickling the bear’s bloody nose. That’s the kind of hammy movie that awaits you with Cocaine Bear. Science and logic, hilariously cited in the movie with Wikipedia “facts,” are deliberately twisted and disregarded for violent glee as cocaine becomes the bear what spinach was for Popeye.

A woman hides on the other side of a tree trunk from a bear.
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

Former Devo rocker-turned-composer Mark Mothersbaugh (Thor: Ragnarok) finds himself right at home in Cocaine Bear’s aesthetic. He pumps forth a kitchen sink electronica score with keyboard slurs matching the splats of neon and crimson on-screen. Prolific TV stunt coordinator Melissa Stubbs (Altered Carbon) throws this cast around to soil their 80s threads and kick up the chases. Last but not least, and coming a long way from the rubber suits and subpar CGI of yesteryear, the digital bear itself, captured by actor Allan Henry and finished by VFX from Petra Holtorlf-Stratton’s team (Deep Horizon), looks suitably fantastic and terrifying.

Following Beast from last fall from the same Universal Studios, Cocaine Bear joins a mild and greatly appreciated return of sorts for “Creature Features” coming from top-shelf production companies. The horror subgenre has been loved by aficionados like Roger Ebert and others across generations, only to find itself grossly diluted in the last two decades by the edible straight-to-cable garbage like the Sharknado series. It’s wonderful to see a big studio aim higher than low-ball cheese. True to form, the unadulterated humor in this very well-marketed movie is as sharply creative as the vicious kills. Cocaine Bear is just long enough, just dumb enough, and just scary enough to honor the “Creature Feature” label.

A mother with two pre-teens shines a flashlight in a cave in Cocaine Bear
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

Cocaine Bear is not without its buzz-killing shortcomings. Normally the monster is the star of the show, but a great “Creature Feature” can be elevated by an engaging ensemble from the human buffet side. This is not one of those movies. No one, save for Prince and Convery with a few “kids-say-the-darndest-things” moments, is remotely interesting.

Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr. are an oddly mismatched chatty duo to follow. Keri Russell is buried in mom mode, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. doesn’t have the cardio to be a strapping hero. No matter who Elizabeth Banks could have found from her Hollywood contacts, wishing for compelling personalities equal to the likes of Brody, Hooper, and Quint from Jaws, the Alien crew of the Nostromo, or the Antarctic ball-busters of The Thing was hoping for too much.

The overall filthy, guilty pleasure sustenance of Cocaine Bear circles reflection back again to the effects of the titular drug. Scottie will stay in one’s system for a couple of days and trigger positive urine tests of up to two weeks. Expect this movie to have longer staying power effects with the right crowd that doesn’t need their movies to matter really, really hard all the time. Lastly, unlike opiates, there is no medication that can reverse an overdose of cocaine. That too is a perfectly acceptable cinematic circumstance. Face it. Like Henry says, “we’re cokeheads now.” Go ahead and let this movie mangle you.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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