Cocaine Bear Movie Review
Reviewed By: Katy Whitton on 26 February, 2023
Genre: Black Comedy, Thriller, B-Movie
UK Release Date: 23-02-2023
Studio: Universal Pictures, Brownstone Productions
Regular readers will know that I love a terrible movie. Not terrible as in bad but in so bad it’s good. Think Snakes On A Plane (2006) Geostorm (2017) or San Andreas (2015).
What all of these films have in common is that they never take themselves too seriously. There’s always a knowing nod and a wink to the more serious films that inspired them such as Airport (1970), Meteor (1979) and Earthquake (1974) respectively.
Along with these more “Hollywood” films aiming to dominate at the box office, there have been the straight to cable/DVD offerings that usually make it to our screens before the blockbuster titles do, think Snakes On A Train (2006), Ants On A Plane (2007 – and disappointingly had the title changed to Destination: Infestation), Geo-Disaster (2017) and San Andreas Quake (2015).
With these films, they know they have a low budget and can’t match the production values of their Hollywood counterparts, but they give it a good try and again do it with a knowing wink to the subject matter – think a toned down Sharknado (2013) and you’ll get the idea.
So when I heard that they were releasing a movie called Cocaine Bear (2023) you can imagine how excited I was – a mix of Hollywood budget, knowing nods to it’s cinematic forefathers and a riot of comedy mixed with blood and gore.
Alas, Cocaine Bear is none of the above – but we’ll get into that in a minute.
We’re introduced to our characters in a variety of ways: put upon Mom Sari (Keri Russell, The Americans), her annoying daughter Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince, Home Before Dark), Dee Dee’s even more annoying friend (and I didn’t think that would be possible but there you go) Henry (Christian Convery, Sweet Tooth).
More put upon characters include drug dealers Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich, Solo: A Star Wars Story) who has left the business but is brought back in to help his best friend Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Swagger) find the missing cocaine.
There’s also Eddie’s drug runner dad Syd (Ray Liotta, Goodfellas, in his last completed performance before his death in 2022) who has been left looking after Eddie’s son and is not too happy about the situation.
Basically every one in this film is being dumped on some how, whether it’s Sari not being able to date because her daughter Dee Dee doesn’t want her too, Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale, The Americans) who is stuck in Chattahoochee National Park because she failed an exam to get allow her to work in Yellowstone, Eddie who has a dodgy tattoo and has to wait a week for it to heal before it can get fixed or Detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr., The Wire) who somehow got a miniature dog instead of the “proper” one he was expecting.
All of these could have been hilariously used to provide character development and conflict except they weren’t. They’re all shoe-horned in by writer Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter: Killer Queen) with no real payoff.
We’re not told exactly when the film takes place but as it is based on a true story of a bear that got into a stash of cocaine in 1985 we can assume it’s around that time period. Apart from a brief glimpse of one hot neon pink outfit, the film doesn’t really date itself much with the wardrobe – the soundtrack however is a different story and perhaps the best character in this film.
The film opens with a coked up drug smuggler (Matthew Rhys, The Americans) frantically trying to ditch his cargo as the plane is going down. He manages to offload most of the duffel bags full of the white stuff before accidentally knocking himself out and falling the from plane – this gave me one of two laughs in the movie.
Yes, two proper laughs in a film that is 1 hour and 35 minutes long.
The story revolves around the drug dealers who were supposed to be receiving the shipment trying to track it down in at a drop-off point in the national park before a Columbian cartel comes after them
There’s a couple of kids who bunk off school so they could go and paint a waterfall in the national park (yes, really! They bunk off school to paint a waterfall)
We have the obligatory cop on the hunt for the drug dealers and a mother on the hunt for a school-skipping daughter.
It would be remiss of me also not to mention that thrown into this mix is a rather large bear that finds some of the cocaine, thinks “yummy” and then goes on a drug fuelled rampage throughout the national park to find the rest of the stash – and woe betide you if you have any on you, that bear’s going to find a way to get it and eat it.
Firstly, this film doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s not funny enough to be a straight comedy, it’s not gross enough to be a horror, it’s not sassy enough to be a piss-take of the genre (think Scary Movie 2000), it just sits somewhere between all three and never really veers into one mode to allow the audience to figure out what it is.
Think about the fun you could have had with a coked up bear! Think Yogi on steroids running amok, tearing down tents in order to find more coke! Think Gentle Ben tearing tiny little Mark limb from limb in order to get to his next fix!
We get none of that. None.
What we get are some overly contrived scenes that takes us from script point A to B to C with no real drive, fun, scares or character development. This may be due to the fact this is only Warden’s second screenplay (with his first being for Netflix) but direction and editing also play a huge role in the mistakes of this film.
The CGI is passable but not brilliant and there are some scenes where you can see the actors struggling to get to grips with where the bear is and how big it’s supposed to be but this isn’t bad enough for you to immediately go “Look Mom! CGI!”
Director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2, Charlie’s Angels (2019)) struggles to find pace, tension and humour. While this is a lot to do with the script, when you have a kid stuck up a tree, a bear rampaging around and a gun happy park ranger shooting every which way she can, surely there would be some sense of worry? Danger even?
And it’s not even because of any comedic effect, it’s all as flat as a pancake and there’s no sense of tension or release when some one is in danger and then saved.
Part of this is due to the lacklustre pace of the editing. Joel Negron has worked on the likes of Jungle Cruise (2021), Thor Ragnarok (2017) and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) so he certainly has the background for it so I am left wondering if Banks and the actors gave him so little to work with there was nothing he could salvage to fix the timing or lack of suspense this movie has.
To give an example, there is one scene where Sari (Keri Russell) is hiding behind a tree. I was able to count down to the second that the jump scare took place and knew what it was – and this wasn’t in a “Hah! Look what we’re doing, isn’t this a joke?” kind of jump scare either, it was meant to shock and it fell completely flat.
I wonder if another issue is that most of the actors have worked in television in the past, having to fill up a cinema screen with your expressive behaviour is a lot different to coming into someone’s homes on a TV or computer monitor.
Banks has struggled in the past. Charlie’s Angels (2019) made $73,235,048 Worldwide on an estimated $48,000,000 budget so after marketing it probably lost money. She had success with Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) which grossed $287,144,079 Worldwide on a $29,000,000 budget (excluding marketing) but I am sure that was more down to the stars and the franchise than Bank’s directorial prowess.
While people reviewing the film don’t seem to think that it’s all it’s cracked up to be (myself included), its Rotten Tomatoes score gives it a pretty respectable 74% audience score at the time of writing (during opening weekend).
I’m afraid I just can’t see the appeal.
The film will make money though, it looks set to top $10,000,000 on its opening weekend and I honestly don’t think it had a massive budget, it’s just a shame they didn’t spend more of it on the script.
Cocaine Bear had so much promise but failed to deliver, much like a line which you think is coke but is actually baking soda.
And just to let you know, if you’re interested in what happened to the actual cocaine bear it ate the stash, died and was then stuffed and placed on display in a mall in Kentucky. At least it died happy I guess? Sources (New York Times and Mental Floss)
Watch this film if you don’t mind a little gore and being a little bored. And if you do get bored while watching this movie you can play the official Cocaine Bear game – go eat some people!