Cocaine Bear is a weird and wild trip of a film that has truckloads of fun with its true story.
Cocaine Bear (2023) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on February 28, 2023
Rating 4 /5
In 1985, a drug smuggler had an accident, and his plane crashed with an absurd amount of cocaine. As the film illustrates in its real-life news report of the era, that part of Cocaine Bear is a true story. Indeed, a bear did ingest some of that cocaine. But what follows after that is a wild horror-comedy that takes the concept of a bear on cocaine and blows it up for all the dark fun with this true story.
A colorful ensemble is assembled to get wrapped up in the dangers of tracking down a bear who consumes cocaine. There’s Keri Russell, playing a nurse/mom who ventures into the woods to find her ditching son (Christian Convery). He’s playing hooky alongside his best friend (Brooklynn Prince), trying to prove to each other how hardcore they are when they run across drugs. Ray Liotta plays a bitter mafia boss who needs that cocaine back. His henchmen include his grieving son (Alden Ehrenreich) and a bitter enforcer (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) who is hoping not to get any blood on his new shoes and jersey (spoiler: he gets a lot of blood on them). Isiah Whitlock Jr. is the cop who tracks them down, and Margo Martindale is the feisty park ranger not afraid to pull the trigger on a bear or gangster.
All of these parties collide at some point as they try to survive being trapped in a Georgia national park with a rampaging, drug-fueled bear. Naturally, plenty of grotesque and uproarious violence follows. The bear terrorizes the humans slasher-style with plenty of lopped-off limbs, claws in the face, and munched-up guts. Given how brilliantly exaggerated the marketing has been, this film very much delivers on what it promises. Those in this film hoping for a brilliant B-movie creature feature experience will not be disappointed.
Okay, so the film has plenty of violence, but is there anything else to this picture beyond those thrills? Surprisingly, yes, there’s a theme to all this brutality. At the film's core is a highlight of the disconnect between parents and children. Russell’s character isn’t as present, and she learns to act when danger strikes her offspring. Ehrenreich’s character rises above his depression to be a more present father by standing up to his less-than-accommodating dad. O'Shea Jackson Jr. tries to become more of a father figure to a plucky punk he tries to work with after a rousing bathroom brawl. Isiah Whitlock Jr. has a cute arc involving a dog he doesn’t want but learns to love in his weird way. And, yes, some bear cubs are present to bring all this together and make you care a little more for the bloodthirsty bear to survive.
The comedy works well for the strong performances of all involved. I doubt it would surprise many to note that esteemed actors like Keri Russell, Ray Liotta, and Margo Martindale shine easily in their fun roles. The blunt acting of Convery and Prince as the kids made them hilariously knowing youths which were fun to watch and root for. Alden Ehrenreich becomes a solid mixture of sadness and determination with a firm tongue-in-cheek for his performance that makes you want to smirk and cry simultaneously. O'Shea Jackson Jr. steals the show as the most significant action star of the picture, making him a prime actor for bruised-arm action pictures, given how much damage he endures from bears and bullets.
Cocaine Bear is a weird and wild trip of a film that has truckloads of fun with its true story. Consider that the film's opening mixes archived news footage and drug PSAs with some facts on bears cited from Wikipedia. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but considering the revival of creature features in the past few years, this is one of the most comical and playful entries for this modern revival of the horror sub-genre. It’s hard not to be intrigued and entertained by a film about a bear on cocaine that is every bit as ridiculous as advertised.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.