Bear-y Insane for Coke: ‘Cocaine Bear’ Review


Cocaine Bear was released on Feb. 24, 2023. Photo courtesy Universal Pictures

Emma Christiansen, Media Critic

On September, 1985, there was a drug run gone bad when drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II dropped millions of dollars worth of packages filled with cocaine from the aircraft. Shortly after, he died of a parachuting accident in Knoxville, Tennessee. The packages landed in Chattahoochee National Park in Georgia. Apparently, three months later, it was also reported that a 175-pound black bear founded a batch and ingested it, but then died of an overdose.

And that’s it. That’s the story. So, with that in mind, this recent horror-comedy takes this bizarre story and asks, “what if people were around to witness the bear high on cocaine?” Of course, if the bear died from the overdose, like in the real event, the movie would result in a rather anti-climatic conclusion. Obviously, that means that director and producer Elizabeth Banks and writer Jimmy Warden would have to stretch this story to an hour and a half by having the bear go on a psychotic rampage, attacking and/or killing innocent people.

The plot of “Cocaine Bear” follows the story semi-truthfully, and then adds in their own for the rest: After Thornton dumps all the packages of cocaine into Chattahoochee Forest and then dies while parachuting shortly after, an American black bear ate some of the cocaine and goes berserk attacking people. The fictional witnesses/victims range from an innocent family to a small group of fixers of a kingpin looking to recover the remaining drugs.

While it is certainly a wild ride no one would forget, there are a few missteps. It does shine fairly when it comes to the horror elements, regarding the violence and gore. Though it didn’t try anything new or original, it’s at least somewhat entertaining to watch. With comedy, on the other hand, it’s a hit and miss. Though not considerably cringe-inducing, some jokes are rewarded with a few chuckles while others just don’t land. Unsurprisingly, the bear terrorizing everyone would be enough for a “WTF” moment or two.

Another flaw is how underwritten the characters are. To the film’s credit, it does have an ensemble cast of legit good actors: Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Brooklynn Prince, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, and of course the late Ray Liotta— the film is dedicated to his memory. Despite that all these actors were working exceptionally well with what they were given, the script didn’t really do many favors for them, as all the characters are pretty standard. However, there is a highlight on how Liotta’s character was presented and how he delivered in his performance as a fictionalized kingpin. In addition, it is sad knowing that this his final role on the big screen, and he will be dearly missed. Still, it’s also a little humorous how his last full-feature film unexpectedly became a movie known for… well, Cocaine Bear.

Right after it’s fresh start on the last weekend of February, “Cocaine Bear” stands at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.5/10 on IMDb. If you have a general curiosity on how this comedy horror film with such a peculiar premise turns out, feel free to check it out but with mild expectations. No harm, no foul. To end this on a nostalgic note, this is a bear on drugs. Any questions?