Highly-anticipated thriller exceeds bear-sized expectations

‘Cocaine Bear’ is polarizing, yet entertaining


Fair use from Universal Pictures

Alex Geretz

The year is 1985, Georgia. Thousands of dollars’ worth of cocaine have just been lost to the forest of Chattahoochee National Park where a black bear has just consumed a significant amount of it.

As a group of unsuspecting hikers, teens, police and criminals all find themselves wandering the trails of Chattahoochee on the fateful day, they enter the crosshairs of the Cocaine Bear, who wants nothing more than to rip them all to shreds. “Cocaine Bear” is directed by Elizabeth Banks and has a huge cast, starring the likes of Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta and Isaiah Whitlock Jr.

If the above plot description sounds just plain stupid, “Cocaine Bear” is probably not the movie for you. To some, it may come off as pointless or childish — it’s perfectly understandable that this silly premise may turn away many viewers. Those, like me, who were intrigued right out of the gate by this absurd idea, however, will probably end up having an incredibly fun ride through the crazy world that is “Cocaine Bear.”

One thing to bear in mind is the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. Despite some few-and-far-between tense moments, “Cocaine Bear” is still more of a comedy than horror. For a movie about a bear high on cocaine — the writers really “coked” the bear on this one — this was probably the best imaginable route it could have taken. From the very start, it’s very clear everyone involved is just having fun embracing the comedic aspects of the film, which works to benefit the overall viewing experience. It had me cracking up at almost every line, I nearly spit out my Coke.

If “Cocaine Bear” had treated its subject matter with the utmost realism and grit sometimes found in horror films of the same breed, it surely would have been a tough sell. With its campiness and spoof-like nature, however, “Cocaine Bear” gets away with having completely unrealistic action sequences and character arcs (for the most part) and is still very enjoyable.

The film is very briskly-paced, clocking in at just over 90 minutes. It seldom drags, perfectly switching between its numerous plot threads of interesting characters before they bore. “Cocaine Bear” stays interesting all the way through, with the interweaving threads creating interesting situations — sometimes to build up tension, sometimes to generate spectacle.

Although some of the action sequences were anticlimactic and forced the plot forward in ways that didn’t feel deserved, most of them forged excitement and adrenaline and made for an incredibly fun time. That being said, I felt there were quite a few missed opportunities to create more interesting character interactions and moments before being thrust into a life-or-death situation with said characters. It may sound nitpicky for a film where the main focus is a bear going on a rampage, but I felt there just wasn’t enough characterization.

Despite sometimes being slightly off, the visual effects were serviceable. However noticeable it was in certain scenes, the bear CGI did its job and, at times, looked surprisingly spectacular in its interaction with live-action characters. The amount of gore on display was fairly shocking at first, but once the bear starts killing people at a greater pace the shock pretty much loses its effect. Despite CGI being the main source, practical effects are often put to use as well, though usually played for laughs.

Overall, I was immensely surprised with how much I ended up liking “Cocaine Bear.” Its trailers showed off the hilarious absurdity of a bear getting ahold of hardcore drugs, but failed to demonstrate how likable some of the characters could be or how fun the overall experience would end up being due to general skepticism around unproven directors or film concepts. However, despite easily sniffed-out flaws, the film actually manages to serve a purely fun time without too much seriousness and ends on a majorly high note.

“Cocaine Bear:” ★★★☆☆