An oddball group converges in a forest where a bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine. Digital editor Dan Jensen checks out one of the more insane movies 2023 has to offer.
IF YOU’RE GOING to see a movie called Cocaine Bear expecting deeply fleshed-out characters, poignant dialogue that will change the way you think, or performances worthy of the Academy’s highest accolade, this isn’t the movie for you.
If, however, you are after one of the most insane movies to hit the screen in years that works on every level to be an absolute riot, then keep reading.
Cocaine Bear is based on the true story of a drug smuggler who abandoned millions of dollars of cocaine from a plane before plummeting to his death in 1985. A curious bear decided to make a meal of the drugs which led to its death — and that’s pretty much the whole story. Nothing terribly exciting.
Along comes director Elizabeth Banks (known more for her work on the opposite side of the camera) and screenwriter Jimmy Warden to turn a forgettable news story into one of the wackiest movies to ever hit our screens. The narrative now features a group of characters including a mother and daughter, a park ranger, a detective, a group of wannabe thugs and a menacing drug boss whose stories all converge while the titular bear goes on a drug-fueled rampage.
The rest is 95 minutes of everything you’d expect from a movie titled Cocaine Bear. It’s over-the-top zany, but it’s completely self-aware. It knows it’s a movie about a coked-up bear on a murder spree and doesn’t pretend to be anything above that. But oh, boy, it’s a fun time!
Leading the cast is Keri Russell as nurse and mother, Sari. She’s on the trail of her daughter, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), and her bestie Henry (played brilliantly by Christian Convery) after they’ve ditched school to go exploring the woods. We also have O’Shea Jackson Jr (the son of Ice Cube) and Alden Ehrenreich on the trail of the missing drugs for kingpin Syd White (Ray Liotta in one of his final roles). Kristofer Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane from Game of Thrones) also turns up as one of the first to encounter the bear.
But let’s face it, it doesn't matter who is in the movie. You don’t go see a movie like this for the cast.
Cocaine Bear is hilariously funny from start to finish. And it is not afraid to go where most other Hollywood films never dare to tread. There are a few moments where you wonder if it’ll be brave enough to push the boundaries and it sure does. No spoilers, but one scene where the kids discover a package of cocaine will have you in stitches for all the wrong reasons.
Needless to say, there’s a fair amount of blood and gore in the film, but it’s all exaggerated for the sake of comedy. It’s cartoonish and extreme, but carefully crafted to incite some of the film’s biggest laughs.
Elizabeth Banks manages to show off some solid directing talent considering the lunacy of the source material. At times, the camera is placed in creative ways and the actors all do a fine job for what the story expects of them. Young Christian Convery is a stand-out, delivering some of the film’s best one-liners and clearly having fun with his character without being too silly or annoying. In fact, it’s obvious everyone had a blast making this film and the energy shines from the screen. It’s infectious.
It's nearly impossible to criticise Cocaine Bear. Are the special effects top-notch? No way. The bear looks like the CG artists took a few days off before it was completely rendered. The characters are shallow and two-dimensional (honestly, the bear probably has the deepest story arc) and the dialogue has more ham than a Christmas dinner.
But who cares? Between the madness of the story, the enjoyable ‘80s setting (complimented by a cracking score) and the overall fun of the film, any criticisms don’t even matter. The movie even manages to squeeze in themes of the perils of drug dependency and the importance of animal welfare among the severed limbs and torn abdomens.
It’s perfectly simple — if you’re the type of person who thinks they’d enjoy a movie called Cocaine Bear, then go see it. You can’t possibly go wrong. This movie was made for you.
Cocaine Bear is now showing in cinemas across Australia.
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