Cocaine Bear (2023) **** – Seen at the Cinema

You probably know by now that this (unnamed) bear has been on a successful box office rampage.  You’ll know, too, that the special effects (you thought it was real bear, duh!) are particularly effective. And you better believe this as hilarious as it is bloody.

What you’ll be less well informed about is the cleverness of the set up. Yes, essentially, it falls into the slasher genre (slabs of claws instead of knives) but has a different approach to the potential victims. Generally, in this kind of horror picture you’ve a good  chance of being slaughtered if you’re sinful, indulging in sex generally the marker but you might enter the killing zone for being a bully or a bitch. While it’s pretty much up to speed with the contemporary trope of the killer being a woman (yep, said bear, it turns out in one hilarious scene, lacks male equipment), but the victims don’t conform to type.

Although it may come in different shapes and sizes, this advert needs only one image.

For the most part they are dumb,  and that includes dumb innocence, but the driving force is  the misguided. Parental focus is misplaced. Sari (Keri Russell) is so desperate for male companionship she ignores the needs of daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince). Drug runner Syd (Ray Liotta) ignores son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), so steeped in sorrow he abandons his son. And then there’s detective Bob (Isaiah Whitlock Jr) who has commitment issues with a new dog.

Hankering after a male leads park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) to douse herself in perfume in a bid to inflame desire from tepid activist Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Three dumb teenagers attempt to rob the hulking fashion-conscious Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr), less concerned about being attacked than the damage blood can do to tee-shirt and sneakers.

Parallel storylines send Sari hunting her kids, the drug-runners and cops hunting bags of cocaine – missing after being dropped from a plane – into the path of the bear who has taken a liking to the drug. At least, without any education in drug lore, the bear knows to sniff or ingest the stuff rather than try to eat it like Dee Dee and her pal Henry (Christian Convery).

There’s a good reason this picture was set in 1985 – the date of the original “true” story – because these days nobody would believe any pre-teen kid wouldn’t know how to absorb coke, and be desperate to try it. And also because “woke” wasn’t invented so nobody needs to get preachy.

Turns out if you want lessons in maternal instinct, you’d better go find yourself a female bear.

This is keenly directed too, by Elizabeth Banks (putting her career on the line, apparently, after her last two pictures, Call Jane, 2022 and Charlie’s Angels, 2019, stiffed). It would be pretty easy to get lost in this smorgasbord of characters, but Banks has a nifty way of leaving you wondering what happened to character X only to find him/her turning up in a situation that advances the story.

I should point out it’s hilarious. Not just the classic line, “Bears don’t climb trees,” but some wonderful deadpan dialog between Daveed and Eddie and then between Eddie and one of the delinquents, gun-happy Liz’s chat-up lines in between being seven-points-to-Sunday barmy, and a pair of loved-up Icelandic tourists falling out over which band will play at their wedding. The question of how to determine a bear’s sex has entered movie comedy heaven.

Banks equally astutely switches the action between gore and comedy, but keeps sufficient focus on the characters to ensure you don’t just look on them as victims, waiting with some glee for them to be chomped up. There’s not that sense of working out who might be Final Girl. Sensibly, she avoids trying to emulate Jaws in the stoking up of tension, nor does she take the mickey out of the audience by using the kids to tug on their heartstrings.

Just like the out-of-left-field Me3an this has sequel stamped all over it. There’s still plenty cocaine left in that wood and, you never know, the bear might enter rehab or it could go down the crossover route and form chapter five of the John Wick saga. Wait, I’m forgetting the obvious. Cocaine Cubs R Us.

Whatever, this is a riot. Best title of the year by far delivers. The actors, even Liotta, prone to overacting, make it believable. Screenwriter Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter, Killer Queen, 2022) comes up with the goods and Banks and the sfx team do the rest.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

6 thoughts on “Cocaine Bear (2023) **** – Seen at the Cinema”

  1. I am always interested in Elizabeth Banks’ projects, and I guess for whatever reason she decided the world needed a wild-ass, wild-animal film at this time. I was only intrigued by this initially because of her involvement, and figured it would have to be laugh-out-loud chaos in order to work. Read several reviews so far, and it sounds like I’m either going to love this or hate this…no in-between.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I hope the rest of Hollywood learns the same lesson. It’s time we had movies we just want to go and see and be entertained not preached at. I’m looking forward to 65 and Dungeons and Dragons this month and of course John Wick.


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