REVIEW: Poor execution buries ‘Cocaine Bear’s’ potential

I think a more entertaining movie about a forest animal high on cocaine would be one focused on a moose, but this was inspired by a true story so it is what it is.

As the title suggests, there’s cocaine in the movie, lots of it. More specifically, it’s cocaine that’s dumped from a smuggling plane over a forest in Georgia, where it’s then ingested by a black bear.

Knowing the cocaine needs to be recovered, a mob boss sends his fixer Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) to pick up the drugs. Meanwhile, Sari (Keri Russell) is a mother whose daughter skipped school to go to the forest with a friend. Sari goes in the forest to look for her daughter and, like Eddie and Daveed, come across the dangerous cocaine Bear.

Movies where animals attack can sometimes be exciting dramatic thrillers with fully fledged characters like “Jaws” or “The Grey.” They can also be straightforward B-movie genre flicks centered on either over-the-top action or suspense. Trying to be both, especially with a title like “Cocaine Bear,” though, doesn’t really work.

The film is really quite a mess, tonally. Director Elizabeth Banks and writer Jimmy Warden at times seem to be pushing for a schlocky B-movie cult classic, but in other moments appear to be going for a more character-driven dramatic thriller.

With the latter, there’s the A plot with Sari trying to save her daughter who she has a strained relationship with, the B plot following Eddie trying to get out of the family crime business, disappointing his father in the process. There’s even another subplot about a detective who is investigating the situation while also wanting to adopt a new dog.

Courtesy Universal Pictures.

None of it is particularly compelling stuff, and it ends up being so much extra filler and fluff in a movie named “Cocaine Bear.” It’s fine to have some characters with backstory, but a goal of this movie should be to just drop some people into a dangerous, wild situation.

The film doesn’t succeed in the schlocky horror way, either. It often feels like it’s trying way too hard to be a cult classic by having some self-awareness and tongue in cheek humor. There’s an inauthenticity with the approach that induces more eye-rolling than engagement.

It doesn’t help that the movie’s comedic aspects just boil down to the one joke of a bear that did cocaine. It loses its luster really quick and just becomes a dull running gag after a while.

Maybe the worst part about the movie, though, is that it doesn’t really deliver in the blood and mayhem that this type of movie should have. There are no great, memorable kills or buckets of blood spraying that one expects from a flick like this, especially when it has an R rating.

“Cocaine Bear” is a film with one of those recognizable names that seems like it’s trying to get every bit of mileage out of that one concept. It unfortunately doesn’t get very far. There’s way too much happening with the characters despite them not being particularly likable or interesting, it’s not that funny and it doesn’t even deliver the carnage it should. Outside of a couple entertaining moments, this one is a miss. 1.5 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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