Paddington meets powder: Reviewing ‘Cocaine Bear’

Pruett Norris, Multimedia Editor

Watching “Cocaine Bear” on a Friday night is a bit like going to see the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” or attending an improv comedy performance: the audience is there to have a good time and there will be audience participation. The 10 p.m. opening weekend screening at the Boone Regal featured packed rows, hooting laughter and the occasional rallying cheer of “Cocaine Bear.” The film has all the tongue-in-cheek camp factor of a future cult movie. 

The movie opens with informative title cards over scenic vistas of the Appalachian Mountains, which explain black bears are rarely violent creatures. The irony of a movie called “Cocaine Bear” even pretending to be a serious nature docu-drama for a few moments is instantly hilarious, but the film can’t hold itself back for long. Inside the first 10 minutes, two hikers are already slaughtered and the film’s true title card splashes across the screen in a schlocky ‘80s font. Enter “Cocaine Bear.”

“Cocaine Bear” is based on a true story. While the bear-borne bloodbath isn’t real, the 300 pounds of cocaine dropped into the Georgia woods were, as was a 175-pound black bear found dead nearby 40 open containers of the drug. According to a brief 1985 blurb published in the New York Times, the bear came across the cocaine after it was dropped into the woods by convicted drug smuggler Andrew Thornton. “Cocaine Bear” starts with that blurb and hits the ground growling. Matthew Rhys plays a hilariously unhinged Thornton in the film and one look at the other characters’ wardrobes demonstrates the movie is set in 1985.

Every other character, however, is fictional. And though their zany ‘80s outfits help, there are still a number to keep track of. Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and the late Ray Liotta are mobsters tracking down the coke. Keri Russell is a concerned mom looking after two kids: Brooklynn Prince as her daughter, Dee Dee, and Christian Convery in a scene-stealing performance as Dee Dee’s friend, Henry. Actress Margo Martindale even shows up as a well-meaning park ranger. However, every single human character is outshined by their coked-up co-star. Any sequence without Cocaine Bear on screen takes air from the film’s tires. Fortunately, that’s not too much of a problem.

Like a bear chasing its prey, the film’s pacing “bearly” lets up. Unlike creature-feature contemporaries like “Jaws” or “Alien,” where the titular critters are mostly off-screen, Cocaine Bear is front and center in its movie. It runs, snorts and chomps in a surprisingly diverse array of situations and the entrails it leaves behind are creative in their gruesomeness. Creativity may not make for realism, but this isn’t “The Revenant.” So what if the CGI bear doesn’t look entirely real? The film clips along fast as a coked-up bear can leap into the back of an ambulance, which happens in the best sequence of the film, and it’s more than enough to distract from the shoddier visual effects.

“Cocaine Bear,” is about a bad bear hunting humans carrying cocaine. It’s violent, stupid and fast-paced. The CGI is hit-or-miss, the human characters are a mix of caricature and kooky and the plot is convoluted. The humor rests mostly on gross-out gags and overblown Georgia accents. 

However, as a friend of mine texted me immediately after she saw the film, “COCAINE BEAR RULES.” I’d have to be half-mauled myself not to agree.


Rating: 4/5 Yosefs

Kaitlyn Close