If you are worried that the movie Cocaine Bear won’t live up to its title, fear not … for there is very much a bear in this movie that does a bunch of cocaine on multiple occasions. Also, this is one of the goriest movies I’ve seen in ages that’s not billed as a horror movie. (To be clear, it’s very fun gore. Like Freddy Krueger-type gore.) So what we have here is a coked-out bear on a murder spree and, honestly, it’s literally everything I would want from a movie called Cocaine Bear.
Elizabeth Banks’s Cocaine Bear is loosely based on a true story. “Loosely” in the fact that in the real-life story, it’s true that in 1985 there was a bear who ate cocaine after drug smugglers dumped their cargo high over rural Tennessee. In the real-life story, as you might expect from an animal who ate 75 pounds of cocaine, it died pretty quickly. This is not the plot of Cocaine Bear. In Cocaine Bear, the bear who eats cocaine goes on a gruesome, murderous rampage against anyone who gets in the way of the bear having more cocaine.
It’s good to see Ray Liotta one more time, chewing scenery, and having a fun time in a movie called Cocaine Bear. When Liotta was promoting The Many Saints of Newark I asked him about Cocaine Bear, which he was currently filming, and he sounded like he was having a ball, “They’ve been doing it for about a month. I just was there a few days ago. I’m going to go back tonight. Yeah, it’s really an interesting, different story. And it definitely resonates with me. What are you doing? Like, Cocaine Bear! What is that? Just the title alone.”
Liotta plays the head of a drug smuggling ring who’s going to be in some hot water if he doesn’t recover all this missing cocaine. He sends his sad sack son, Marty (Alden Ehrenreich), and his pal Howard (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) to go find the cocaine. Not only do these two have to deal with a bear on cocaine, but there’s a whole assortment of other characters. There are the two kids (Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery) who find cocaine in the woods and kind of think that’s cool. There’s Keri Russell, playing a mom looking for the two kids. There’s the park ranger played by Margo Martindale who has an itchy trigger finger and the man of her affection (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). There are three punks who in their spare time mug hikers who also find the cocaine. And then there’s the FBI agent (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) chasing down Marty and Howard. Anyway, the point is here there are plenty of characters for the Cocaine Bear to eat.
(As an aside, Cocaine Bear is a sneaky great ’80s movie. When we see a kid’s bedroom, it does not have posters of The Thing on the wall because no kid in 1985 had a poster of The Thing on the wall, no matter how much Gen X filmmakers want you to believe they did at the time. What they do have on the wall in Cocaine Bear are posters of Jason Bateman and Adam Ant. Now, this is historically accurate. When characters drive around with the radio on, it’s not the same three ’80s songs on the radio. In this movie, “No More Words” by Berlin plays. A song that was on the radio nonstop at a point in our history. Also, there’s a scene at a self-described dive bar in St. Louis. As someone who was a kid in St. Louis in 1985, I scoffed at first, thinking, “Well, any 1985 St. Louis dive bar would have Falstaff signs everywhere.” We get a wide shot, and there’s the Falstaff sign. A beer my dad loved back then that no longer exists. Anyway, I can’t remember the last time I was so impressed with the details like this.)
In the end, Cocaine Bear is the silly fun that a movie called Cocaine Bear should provide us, the audience looking for silly fun. This is not a movie that takes itself seriously, even though the gore rises to the level of some pretty good horror movies. (There’s one death scene, in particular, I found myself laughing out loud because it was so unexpected. I laughed and clapped my way through this entire movie.) I mentioned Freddy Krueger earlier, but Cocaine Bear plays more like an ’80s horror movie in the vein of Friday the 13th. But instead of Jason Voorhees, we get a fun bear who would probably be minding its own business except for all the cocaine it’s done.
What’s weird about a movie like Cocaine Bear (kind of similar to Plane earlier this year), these feel like fun outliers now when we used to get movies like this all the time. But now to even get attention they need titles like Cocaine Bear or the funny simplicity of Plane or Ambulance. But I’m glad attempts are still being made to make these movies and I’d be the first person in line for Cocaine Bear 2. Long live the Cocaine Bear.
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