March 24, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: Action comedy gives viewers a real high

Cocaine Bear

Universal Pictures

It is an extreme rarity for a film to promise audiences a stupid fun time at the theater and actually deliver. Luckily, for anyone who saw “Cocaine Bear”’s marketing materials and thought that the film looks like the epitome of dumb fun, they will find themselves walking away feeling higher than the coked-up bear that is its namesake.

After a drug transport goes wrong and several duffle bags filled with cocaine are dumped out of a plane into the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, a 500-pound black bear gets a sniff of some of it and goes on a terrorizing rampage, brutally murdering anyone who stands in her way of obtaining more precious powder.

One of the most insane elements of “Cocaine Bear”’s incredible plot is that it is based on a true story. However, many creative liberties are taken in director Elizabeth Banks’ telling of this story, as the titular bear never went on its killing spree in real life and tragically died shortly after ingesting the cocaine.

“Cocaine Bear” is at its best when it embraces its absurdity and actively gives the audience exactly what they want, which takes the form of brutal carnage, suspenseful thrills and huge laughs. While this often happens enough to make the film wellworth seeing, there are many moments where Banks could and should have leaned further into the wacky and almost parody-like tone established from the first scene. 

A well-placed needle drop calling back to one of Banks’ earliest films, “Wet Hot American Summer” (2001), creates an expectation for viewers who are familiar with the hilariously ridiculous comedy that “Cocaine Bear” will feel similar to the classic David Wain film in all of its stupidity. While there are plenty of moments that live up to this expectation, “Cocaine Bear” often tries to be more serious than it has any right to be. It is in these moments that its pacing slows down to the point of feeling like the comedown of a bad high.

Unfortunately, “Cocaine Bear” is at its slowest when it focuses on some of its poorly developed characters. Some of the weakest of the bunch is Sari (Keri Russell), her daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Dee Dee’s friend, Henry (Christian Convery). Whenever these characters are on screen, viewers will often find themselves rooting for the bear.

“Cocaine Bear” is much more enjoyable when it is focusing on Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), two fixers sent to recover the remaining cocaine by drug lord Syd White (Ray Liotta). Eddie and Daveed share a fun dynamic that fits the film’s tone when it is at its best, which is emphasized by Ehrenreich’s and Jackson Jr.’s impeccable comedic chemistry.

Supporting standouts include Liz (Margo Martindale), a park ranger who cannot aim a gun properly for the life of her, along with Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a detective whose greatest goal in life is to own a dog that can play fetch. Both of these performances specifically provide a few of the film’s biggest laughs. Liotta’s final performance as Syd is equally enjoyable. Liotta’s natural charm often blinds the viewer from thinking about some of the moronic decisions Syd makes, especially during the film’s climactic third act.

There are more than a couple of characters in “Cocaine Bear” that simply did not need to be in the film. The most prominent examples of this are Olaf (Kristofer Hivju) and Elsa (Hannah Hoekstra), two hikers who are among the first to encounter the bear. Their storyline in particular feels drawn out to the point of being laughable, especially when it meets an end that literally comes out of nowhere. The film could have easily trimmed down upwards of five minutes off its runtime without their inclusion and it would have been all the better for it.

“Cocaine Bear” is a film that was made to be seen in a theater filled with people. It is the type of movie that is only strengthened by experiencing it with a large crowd. The feeling of fun that “Cocaine Bear” generates when it is shooting at all cylinders is palpable in the theater, which is the best high any movie can provide a viewer.

Although “Cocaine Bear” will certainly not go down as one of the best films of 2023 by the year’s end, it truly has a fair shot at being remembered as one of the best times people could have had at the theater in recent memory.

Evan Miller can be reached at