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Review: Cocaine Bear (2023)

A multi-million dollar SyFy original movie.

Some movie titles tell you everything you need to know about a movie: Snakes on a Plane (2006), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), I Married a Witch (1942), An American Werewolf in London (1981)…they’re brilliantly succinct and provide a sense of security making sure you know exactly what to expect over the next two hours of runtime. The first of its kind this year, we can add Cocaine Bear (2023) to that list of appropriately titled movies. I went into this movie genuinely expecting nothing more than a modest movie about a bear on cocaine and guess what? That is exactly what I got. Yes, there were some human plotlines I would have edited down or cut completely, but more or less Cocaine Bear is exactly what you expect it to be. Which is totally fine with me! In a world dominated by big budget IP blockbusters and blatant Oscar bait, having a horror comedy like this or megahit M3GAN (2022) – both distributed by Universal Pictures by the way – is a more than welcome breath of fresh air. / Universal Pictures

Loosely inspired by true events, Cocaine Bear follows multiple groups of criminals, children and park employees as they converge at the same time in a Georgia National Park for various reasons. Unknown to each of them, there is a huge black bear on a murderous rampage due to it accidentally ingesting cocaine.

I adore horror movies but I’m not really one for horror movies where a wild animal is the villain. Not only does it make for a less interesting, menacing antagonist, but I’m always like, “that’s just an animal reacting to human interference. They’re really the victim in this situation and I’m rooting for them to either escape from or kill all the dumb humans.” Also, it’s impossible to ever be scared of the cocaine bear because she’s just so cute! Unlike Jaws (1975) though which has the narrative choice of a shark randomly killing people, there’s an outside force spurring the actions of the titular animal in Cocaine Bear. I’ll give you $5 if you can guess what that force is.

You guys, this movie contains a scene of a bear doing a line of coke off a severed leg…that’s something I never thought I would see, a sentence I thought I’d never write and the only prompt you need to see this movie. There lies the beauty of Cocaine Bear, the secret to why it’s been winning over audiences: It’s too ridiculous NOT to enjoy. The movie is thoroughly unapologetic with how bonkers it is and despite a few shortcomings I can honestly say that I was never bored. It wasn’t predictable and I had a fun time at the movies! I think part of what makes Cocaine Bear a success is how it feels like it was made be a cast and crew who had no other motive than simply to have a blast making the silliest horror-comedy they could. 

Cocaine Bear is directed by Elizabeth Banks whom I love as an actress but sadly have thus far been underwhelmed by as a director. I’m sorry to say that after seeing her contribution to Movie 43 (2013), Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) and Charlie’s Angels (2019), I am not a fan of Banks as a director. I think she’s a fantastic actress but I don’t think directing is necessarily right for her. Her movies aren’t terrible and they’re definitely watchable, they just always leave a little to be desired. I have yet to watch one of her movies and say that I loved it from start to finish. First of all, maybe a bit of actual cocaine was needed because overall the movie needed more energy. Dull dialogue and cheap scares did little to impress and it wasn’t until the ambulance scene that in terms of both horror and comedy, I finally got the tone and execution that I wanted out of Cocaine Bear.

The movie delivers a few chuckles but overall could have been a lot funnier and scarier. I mostly blame the poor editing. The movie is only 90 minutes and yet it feels like it could have been edited down even more. There are multiple scenes that seem to go on for longer than necessary. A lot of scenes and plot points, especially all the scenes with Bob the detective, feels like it was meant to be left on the cutting room floor but somehow ended up in the movie. Honestly, so much time of Cocaine Bear is wasted on not watching a bear on cocaine. 

Cocaine Bear could have just been about criminal co-workers Daveed and Eddie as well as Park Ranger Liz and I would have been a happy camper. Focusing on just these standout characters and abandoning the storyline of mother Sari rescuing her lost daughter would have guaranteed that the movie be a horror-comedy smash. Focusing on the antics of these aforementioned characters might have even made up for the lacking screen time of Cocaine Bear. As Daveed and Eddie respectively, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich are an entertaining duo. They should have been given many more jokes as their comedy bits were standouts of the movie. Ehrenreich has a great range and comedic timing. He can do anything! Well, except play a beloved Han Solo evidently.

The true star of Cocaine Bear though is Margo Martingale as Ranger Liz. I get that Keri Russell’s Sari and her daughter are the emotional heartbeat but in a movie as silly as this why not deliver a silly protagonist? Besides, I don’t think anyone really cared about Sari’s storyline anyway. However, I would watch an entire series of movies of Martindale protecting parks and fighting off delinquent teens and drug fueled animals. Cocaine Bear boasts a cast that is full of incredible character actors. It’s honestly such a relief from the bland movie “stars” you often see in one lifeless blockbuster after another. What we have here are actors who are down to clown and audiences will be genuinely thrilled to see.

Cocaine Bear may not be a well-made movie but it’s ridiculously silly and the fun that the cast and crew clearly had translates through the screen. I enjoyed  turning my brain off and being mildly thrilled and amused during a movie that though far from great, was such a breath of unapologetically nonsensical fresh air that I had no choice but to be entertained by. I recommend seeing Cocaine Bear! Especially once you’ve had a few drinks with your friends. Oh, and if anyone at Universal is listening, WHEN are we going to get a Cocaine Bear crossover with M3GAN?!

Have you seen Cocaine Bear?

Let me know in the comments or on social media! 


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