March 3, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Sophia Lisco
If it’s brown, lay down. If it’s black, fight back. If it’s coked up… you’re f****d up.
In 1985, crooked cop Andrew Thornton was found dead on a Tennessee driveway attached to an unopened parachute and 80-pounds of cocaine. In a last-ditch effort to save himself and his drug ring, Thornton had dropped his remaining cocaine supply out of a moving plane with the intention of recovering it later. Three months later, Georgia investigative officers discovered a 175-pound black bear who had died, presumably, after consuming several million dollars’ worth of cocaine.
What if, asks director Elizabeth Banks, this bear hadn’t overdosed but instead became hooked on the drug and, say, went on a murderous rampage? The result is 95-minutes of captivating, preposterous cinema that is “Cocaine Bear”.
The film follows the unfortunate characters who enter Chattahoochee National Forest. Actress Margo Martindale plays the park ranger, keeping an eye out for the gang of switchblade-wielding teenage delinquents who roam the forest in search of their next score. Misfortune aids them as they run into a tough drug peddler (O’Shea Jackson Junior) and his best friend (Alden Ehrenreich). The two have come to the forest in search of the missing bags of cocaine, motivated by the threats of their head honcho, Dentwood, played by the late Ray Liotta.
Also entering the forest are two pre-teen troublemakers, Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery, who have decided to play “hooky” for the day. When a local mother, Keri Russell, receives news of this, she too embarks on a doomed journey into cocaine bear territory.
It doesn’t take long before heads start to roll (literally) as the strung-out beast smells trouble. Not even finding higher ground is enough to protect you — black bears can certainly climb trees, and cocaine bears can do it really fast. This movie is truly not for the squeamish, or for those who prefer not to see the direct results of savage attacks including, but not limited to, spools of small intestine, smashed skulls, chunks of brain, and various dismembered limbs.
Don’t let this turn you away, though. The film’s most violent, gory scenes are often the funniest. There is something undoubtedly comedic about the bear snorting a line of coke off the dismembered calf of a hiker who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The most ridiculously hilarious scene involves a pair of EMTs responding to a call from the park ranger. As they pull away in the ambulance, we are again reminded that the cocaine bear is really, really fast and indeed, high on cocaine.
If the film continued to deliver funny, action-packed sequences of the ballistic bear, it might have become an instant favorite. Sadly, Banks places too much emphasis on the characters, their relationships, and their feelings (bor-ing!). Right around the time we find out that the cocaine bear is taking care of some cocaine cubs, the film really starts to lull. It’s hard to laugh at the violence when we start caring about the characters.
This is the part of the film, however, where Ray Liotta shines as he reprises his role as a tough, ball-busting mobster (see “Goodfellas” (1990)) in a somewhat fitting conclusion to an illustrious cinematic career. At this point, the mama bear is a full-on addict, but Dentwood is unsympathetic. He is armed, he wants his money, and he is here to kick ass and take names. Things get slightly more complicated when he crosses paths with a human mama bear, the children, his two henchmen, and the cocaine bear, resulting in an ultimate man vs. nature battle.
“Cocaine Bear” is a blast and a good movie, though I might be the only person in that theater who thought so. As the final credits rolled, I soon realized that my group was the only one left in the theater. One by one, at various points in the film, the other theatergoers had gathered their things and walked out.
Even worse, my roommate reportedly fell asleep during the film (after answering messages on a dating app). I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hurt — betrayal even. What has the world come to? Can we not set aside even an hour of our attention to enjoy an absurd, horrific, escapist motion picture?
The film is a triumph, and I applaud all involved. Please go see it, for your own good.
“Cocaine Bear” is in theaters now.