3.5 out of 5 stars
A few weeks ago, a YouTube trailer for a movie called “Cocaine Bear” interrupted my day. I was intrigued to say the least, and after some intense debate, our features editor Luke Swift agreed to let me review it.
As suggested by the straightforward title, “Cocaine Bear,” directed by Elizabeth Banks, is a darkly comedic slasher that dares to imagine what would happen if a black bear in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest consumed massive amounts of cocaine. It has everything to be expected from such a premise: bears, lots of cocaine and a staggering amount of violence.
Perhaps most unbelievable of all, the movie is very loosely based on a true story. Variety explains that in 1985, cocaine smuggler Andrew Thornton dropped approximately 40 containers of cocaine out of a plane while flying over Chattahoochee. A bear was later found dead in the forest of a cocaine overdose, having discovered Thornton’s fallen stash.
The bear, nicknamed “Pablo Escobear,” was taxidermized and currently resides in the Kentucky Fun Mall, according to OutdoorHub. In terms of connection to the movie, the bear and the cocaine are about as far as the truth will stretch, because Banks’ blood-soaked bear rampage is nowhere near what actually happened.
The movie’s best quality is its genre awareness. It knows exactly how ridiculous it is and refuses to take itself too seriously.
The plot attempts to follow different people as they journey through the woods, including Alden Ehrenreich (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”) and O’Shea Jackson Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton”) as a pair of drug dealers trying to recover the lost cocaine, Keri Russell (“The Americans”) as a mother trying to rescue two children from the bear’s clutches and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (“Black KkKlansman”) as a cop trying to hunt down the drug dealers.
While the movie makes a couple half-hearted attempts to acquaint us with the greater arc of its characters, it knows we don’t care. Every time it feels as if we need to sit through more backstory, another limb flies across the screen and more white powder flies into the air.
“Cocaine Bear” also features the late Ray Liotta in his final role as hardened cocaine smuggler Syd, who will stop at nothing to recover the stolen drugs. Each actor was believable, insofar as anything is believable in this movie.
Of course, the real star is the bear herself, brought to life through CGI. The animation is extremely convincing and realistic, with the bear transitioning in and out of drug fueled rage as the plot requires. By the end, we have a strange degree of sympathy for the bear, who ultimately just wants to be left alone to eat more cocaine with her cubs in peace.
Although the movie doesn’t pretend to be any more than a fantasy, there is an undercurrent of anger at the circumstances that allowed the bear access to the drugs in the first place.
Set in the middle of the war on drugs, references to the tearing apart of families resulting from drug trafficking are packed into the film. Variety quotes Banks as calling the movie a revenge story for the real-life cocaine bear, as the actual story of a bear dying at the hands of greed and careless humans is a tragic one.
These references are not heavy-handed, and nobody tries to pretend that the movie is anything other than what it is: a bear eating cocaine and wreaking havoc. It’s not Oscar bait, but it is a fun watch in a twisted way, if you can stomach extreme gore and get past the memory of the true Pablo Escobear, may he rest in peace.
Photo from latimes.com.