Cocaine Bear (2023) poster

Cocaine Bear (2023)


USA. 2023.


Director – Elizabeth Banks, Screenplay – Jimmy Warden, Producers – Elizabeth Banks, Brian Duffield, Max Handelman, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & Aditya Sood, Photography – John Gulesarian, Music – Mark Mothersbaugh, Visual Effects – Lola VFX, Myth Image (Supervisor – Mark Duvall), Rising Sun Pictures (Supervisor – Matt Greig) & Weta Digital (Supervisor – Robin Hollander), Special Effects Supervisor – Brendan Byrne, Prosthetics – Weta Workshop Limited, Production Design – Aaron Haye. Production Company – Lord Miller/Brownstone/Jurassic Party.


Keri Russell (Sari McKendry), O’Shea Jackson, Jr (Daveed), Alden Ehrenreich (Eddie), Isiah Whitlock Jr (Bob), Christian Convery (Henry), Ray Liotta (Syd), Brooklynn Prince (Dee Dee McKendry), Margo Martindale (Ranger Liz), Aaron Holliday (Kid-Stache), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Peter), Ayoola Smart (Officer Reba), J.B. Moore (Vest), Leo Hanna (Ponytail), Kristoffer Hijyu (Olaf/Kristoffer), Hannah Hoekstra (Elsa), Kahyun Kim (Beth), Scott Seiss (Tom), Matthew Rhys (Andre Thornton)


In 1985, drug dealer Andrew Thornton is flying a small plane filled with a haul of cocaine from Colombia into the US. He conducts a drop over the Chattahoochee National Forest in Kentucky, only to knock himself out and be killed while he attempts to parachute out. The cocaine is found by a black bear that promptly consumes large quantities and becomes aggressive. When Thornton’s death hits the news, assorted parties gather in the area. Syd, the dealer who would have received the drugs, despatches two lackeys, Daveed and his son Eddie, to retrieve the haul. They take one of an attacking group of hoodlums hostage to lead them to its whereabouts. At the same time, the police detective Bob heads to the area. Sari, a local mother, heads into the state park in search of her daughter Dee Dee who has skipped school with her best friend Henry, and joins the park ranger Liz in the search for them. As all of these parties venture into the park, they face the threat of a murderously wired bear that wants more of the drugs.

Cocaine Bear is a film that comes based on a true story. The actual incident occurred in September 1985 when drug smuggler Andrew Thornton III was killed while smuggling a haul of cocaine into the US from Colombia in a Cessna. He had dropped the drugs over Georgia and jumped out, abandoning the plane, but was killed when his parachute failed to open. Two months later, in a search of the area, authorities found some of the drugs, along with the body of a black bear that had torn open the containers and consumed a large quantity of the cocaine, which had ended up killing it. The bear’s preserved body can be found on display today at a mall in Lexington. This is a film that is based on the incident. The film takes considerable liberties with the truth ie. having the bear rampaging through the park and causing a string of deaths, which is never did in actuality, meaning that it should properly be consider a Film That Make a Dubious Claim to Be Based on a True Story.

The film is directed by Elizabeth Banks who is better known as an actress. She has appeared in a reasonable number of films since the late 1990s, including The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), Slither (2006), The Uninvited (2009) and Pitch Perfect (2012), even voicing Wildstyle in The Lego Movie (2014), although is probably best remembered as Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games (2012) and sequels. She made her directorial debut with one of the segments of Movie 43 (2012) and her full length debut with Pitch Perfect 2 (2015), followed by the big screen reboot of Charlie’s Angels (2019). The film is produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), the live-action 21 Jump Street (2012) and The Lego Movie.

Nominally, Cocaine Bear falls into being an Animals Attack films. You could point to some of the other killer bear films amid this such as Grizzly (1976), Claws (1977) or Prophecy (1979). On the other hand, Elizabeth Bank pitches the film as a comedy. Comedy is not something for which the Animals Attack genre is noted. There have been assorted parodies of the genre like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) and Snakes on a Plane (2006), although the nearest Cocaine Bear comes is the incredibly lame Brendan Fraser-starring Furry Vengeance (2010).

Keri Russell and cocaine-addicted bear in Cocaine Bear (2023)
Keri Russell and cocaine-addicted bear

The film gives us assorted characters running around from Keri Russell’s mom in search of her kid, two low-level drug dealers associates, Ray Liotta (in his last film) as the dealer himself, a detective, a plus-size park ranger with romantic intentions and a trio of petty hoodlums. Most of these are played with a comic ineptitude – think something of the clueless no-hopers that turn up in Coen Brothers films like The Big Lebowski (1998) and The Ladykillers (2004).

This makes for a mix you don’t usually get in mainstream films these days – a film that is being a comedy but rather than safe, easy laughs pushes the material for frequent Black Humour. Most of the characters have a comic incompetence that frequently causes a situation to go sideways. There’s a particularly funny sequence where the bear collapses on top of Alden Ehrenreich, and a bizarrely hilarious scene where the bear pursues a fleeing ambulance. All of this is mixed with a liberal degree of gore as we see people being splattered, gutted and torn apart.

Far more than she did previously in the largely anodyne Charlie’s Angels, Elizabeth Banks relishes the dark sense of humour. She has an appealing eye for setting up scenes that go for the comically grotesque. She doesn’t deliver anything that is going to fill the slack since the Coen Brothers dropped dark comedy for making serious films, but the show is an undeniably fun ride.

Trailer here

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