‘Cocaine Bear’: A Gory Good Time


Universal Pictures

“Cocaine Bear” directed by Elizabeth Banks (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

By Andre Montoya, Arts Writer


It’s rare when just the title of a movie can perfectly sell the tone of what to expect from a movie, but “Cocaine Bear” does exactly that. In the pantheon of ridiculous animal-related comedies like “Sharknado,” “Snakes On A Plane” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” where does “Cocaine Bear” land?

Bear in Mind

Kerri Russel in “Cocaine Bear” (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Believe it or not, this movie is based on real events. In 1985 authorities found the body of a known drug smuggler and former narcotics officer, Andrew Thornton wearing a parachute in Knoxville, Tennessee along with 77 pounds of cocaine strapped to his body.

While searching for the rest of the cocaine, investigators found an empty duffel bag and a black bear that apparently died from a multi-million-dollar coke overdose. The press dubbed the poor bear “Pablo EskoBear” after the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, and his body is now on display at the “Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall” in Lexington, Kentucky.

While the fate of Pablo EskoBear was rather tragic, the Cocaine Bear has a much more simple story. A bear does cocaine and goes on an astonishingly bloody and hilarious killing spree in the woods.

The movie is a horror-comedy but could easily fall into the creature-feature category. It’s in the same vein as “Jaws” and “Godzilla.” As the title suggests, this movie is high-octane and wastes no time in getting to the ridiculousness.

Poohs and Teddies

(From left to right) O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ayoola Smart, Alden Ehrenreich, and Ray Liotta in “Cocaine Bear” (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

For such a short movie, the cast is stacked. There are cast standouts of course, but everyone gets a chance to shine.

Margo Martindale as Ranger Liz and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Detective Bob share similar roles that fit the archetype of the tired government employee that’s “too old for this shit.” They have the mannerisms and southern charm that make for a hilarious combo that endears them to the audience.

Ray Liotta leaves no scenery unchewed as Syd, the drug kingpin responsible for putting the movie’s events into action. Liotta passed away in 2022 meaning this is one of his final on-screen performances and this movie is dedicated to his memory.

Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr. play best friends, Eddie and Daveed, and make for a hilarious pair with their back-and-forth banter. Jackson Jr. is played more as the straight-man to Ehrenreich’s blubbering, bumbling mess. This combo leads to several of the movie’s funniest moments.

Game of Thrones” fans will be delighted to see Kristofer Hivju in yet another misadventure with a bear. This time, Hivju plays Olaf, a bewildered hiker. “Modern Family” fans similarly will be happy to see Jesse Tyler Ferguson make a return to the comedy genre as the animal-loving Peter.

Other cast standouts include a surprisingly hilarious performance from child actor Christian Convery as Henry, Aaron Holliday as teenage delinquent Stache and Kerri Russel as stressed-out mom, Sari.

Between The Lines

Aaron Holliday (left) and O’Shea Jackson Jr. (right) in “Cocaine Bear” (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The two factors working best in the movie’s favor are the surprisingly clever script by Jimmy Warden, which doesn’t solely rely on low-brow humor, and the sharp directing from Elizabeth Banks who normally does not direct movies like this. 

What works to the movie’s detriment is the editing and VFX. At times the cuts are awkwardly placed, cutting scenes and shots too early. Of course, the eponymous bear is not real and there are certain moments, particularly in low lighting, where that is painfully obvious.

Critically, the movie came out of the gate strong but has since settled at a 70% Rotten Tomatoes critic score and a 6.5 IMDB rating. With audiences, the movie has done a lot better with a 75% Rotten Tomatoes audience score and a decent B- from Cinema Score.

Where Cocaine Bear has really shined is financially; not only did it overperform but also easily topped the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe entry “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” with a $23 million opening weekend.

It’s yet another win for Universal Pictures that’s been releasing the most ridiculous movies to great success. From “Violent Night” to “M3GAN” and the upcoming “Renfield,” there is a lot to look forward to.

While it does have its determinants as a movie, “Cocaine Bear” is not quite a so-bad-it’s-good flick, nor is it unwatchable. Instead, it fits in the happy medium of turn-your-brain-off and popcorn entertainment that anyone can enjoy.


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