Cocaine Bear Review

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Elizabeth Bank’s Cocaine Bear is based on an absurdly fascinating true story about a smuggler’s ill-fated last run and an animal that sticks its nose where it doesn’t belong. The real bear died after consuming 75 pounds of coke, but its taxidermied body would go through several owners over three decades before ending up in a Kentucky mall. Supposedly, one of the bear’s owners was country music star Waylon Jennings, although his son has contested this. While there’s more than enough facts to fill a feature, Cocaine Bear is only “inspired” by the true story. It otherwise uses the premise as a launchpad for a fictional action-horror-comedy. Whether or not that makes for a better film will depend on your frame of mind (or what substances you take before entering the theater).

Matthew Rhys makes a brief cameo as Andrew C. Thornton II, the smuggler who dropped the cocaine packages that the bear would ultimately find. If you’ve never heard of Thornton, which you likely haven’t, do a Wikipedia search on him. His backstory is fascinating, and it’s only touched upon here. Speaking of Wikipedia, there’s an early gag concerning the website that’s arguably the funniest moment in the movie. It’s followed by another humorous encounter as a happily engaged couple discovers the titular Cocaine Bear. Their fates couldn’t be more sealed if one of them was a day away from retirement.

If you’re wondering why Rhys accepted such a small role, cut to Keri Russell as our lead, Sari. Her daughter, played by Brooklynn Prince of The Florida Project, skips school with her friend Henry, Christian Convery.  While Prince is sadly underutilized, Convery steals the show with a high-pitched voice, wide eyes, and colorful vocabulary. The two head into the woods where the Cocaine Bear pursues them, leaving behind a trail of blood and blow. At least it’s not blood and honey.

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Sari sets out to look for the children with a trigger-happy ranger (Margo Martindale) and an unrecognizable Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Searching for the cocaine are two criminals played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich, the latter of whom delivers the film’s second-funniest human performance after Convery. Their boss is a hothead named Syd Dentwood, played by Ray Liotta in what will bizarrely go down as one of his last performances. Also in the mix is Isiah Whitlock Jr., who goes from The Wire to a very different drug-related epic. Cocaine Bear has more characters than it knows what to do with, which amounts to some pacing issues as we wait for the bear to show up. Whenever the bear is on screen, though, the film knows how to kill the characters off. That’s what the target audience is here for.

As over-the-top and gloriously gory as Cocaine Bear can be, it could’ve gone even further with its absurdity. It also could’ve taken a more grounded approach, sticking closer to the true story. Whichever direction you prefer, one can’t help but wish that Cocaine Bear went all the way. While the film ultimately delivers what its title promises, it lacks the ambition of an all-time cult classic. The titular bear does have the makings of a star, however. While obviously CGI, the bear manages to be simultaneously funny, threatening, and even sympathetic. After all, the bear can’t be blamed for its drug-fueled rampage. It’s society’s fault.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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