Movie Review: ‘Cocaine Bear’

Review by James Lindorf

Lines, truants, and bears, oh my! The third time’s the charm for director Elizabeth Banks, who, with the guidance of fan favorites Phil Lord and Chris Miller, turns a whacky what-if into the best horror-comedy in years. With distribution by Universal Pictures, the R-rated “Cocaine Bear” is now playing in theaters everywhere.

When you hear horror-comedy, you think of movies like box office hits like “Shaun of the Dead,” and “Happy Death Day,” or cult hits like “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.” Technically horror-comedy isn’t the most accurate way to describe “Cocaine Bear.” To do that, you need to flip the two genres because comedy leads the way for this film. Perhaps the best comparison is “Bushwhacked” or “The Goonies” meets “Jaws.” Everyone is on their adventure for the day, and every now and then, a coked-out black bear shows up to make their day worse.

Single mother Sari (Keri Russell) is excited to introduce her teenage daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) to her new romantic partner during a weekend getaway. Upset at the canceled mother-daughter time, Dee Dee decides to cut school with her best friend Henry (Christian Convery) and go on her own to “paint the falls” of Blood Mountain in Chattahoochee National Forest. Unbeknown to the two 13-year-olds is that after his plane malfunctioned, a pilot littered the national forest with dozens of bags containing millions of dollars in cocaine. The shipment was on its way to St Louis crime boss Syd (Ray Liotta). Syd sends his grieving son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and most loyal enforcer, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), down to Georgia to recover the missing drugs. Throw in some Swedish tourists, a love-sick park ranger, knife-wielding locals, a dogged detective, and a large cocaine-addicted bear, and things get a bit out of control.

“Cocaine Bear” is destined to be a love-it-or-hate-it movie, and it will all depend on how you vibe with the over-the-top comedic and horror elements. Nothing is subtly done; the humor can be silly and crass, while the horror is violent and bloody. Even if the CGI blood isn’t the most realistic, flying limbs can still be unsettling. For those that can’t get past either or both of those elements, nothing in the rest of the film is capable of redeeming it. Suppose you are enjoying the vibe put on screen by Banks and first-time screenwriter Jimmy Warden. In that case, only two main elements will impact how you feel about “Cocaine Bear” when the credits roll.

The first shortcoming is that the acting could be more consistent. Jackson Jr. has some good lines, but his performance is relatively flat. On the other hand, National Forest Inspector Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and a pair of tourists, Elsa and Olaf, are at an 11 and are as distracting as they are additive to the final product. While it may be on the sillier end, the best ongoing joke and my favorite performance by an adult is between Detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Rosette, the tiny Yorkshire Terrier he received by mistake. The best all-around performances are by the two teenagers who have a long list of credits including “The Florida Project” and “Sweet Tooth.” They have great comedic timing and emotional character.

Beyond the acting, there are also some pacing issues. Everyone seems to be heading to a similar location, but surprisingly, that is not where the climax occurs. After that big scene, it feels as if Warden wasn’t exactly sure how to finish the movie, causing the story to lose all forward momentum as he tries to tie up loose ends as quickly as possible without much reasoning.
Universal Pictures doesn’t have a hand in the superhero game, but between “Violent Night,” “Cocaine Bear,” and “Fast X,” no one is providing audiences with more ridiculous, over-the-top, laugh-out-loud fun. For people in their 30s or older and like Warden, this is a nostalgia bomb. It even invokes Popeye in the bear’s relationship to cocaine. When you think the bear is down and out, the next line and a burst of energy are just around the corner. Until the pacing issue near the climax “Cocaine Bear” was running at 5 out of 5. Unfortunately, that and the uneven acting can’t be ignored. Despite those shortcomings, people that love “Cocaine Bear” will be able to watch it repeatedly. For pure enjoyment and the strength of the child actors, “Cocaine Bear” comes in at a 4 out of 5

Rating: R
Genre: Mystery & Thriller, Comedy
Original Language: English
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Producer: Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Elizabeth Banks, Max Handelman, Brian Duffield, Aditya Sood, Matt Reilly, Christine Sun
Writer: Jimmy Warden
Release Date (Theaters): Feb 24, 2023 Wide
Runtime: 1h 35m
Distributor: Universal Pictures

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