Review: Cocaine Bear

Score: B-

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Cast: Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O'Shea Jackson Jr, Ray Liotta

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rated: R

With a name like Cocaine Bear, you know what's in store. A black bear will do enough cocaine to kill a man, then actually kill a man—or several. (The true events it's based on is much sadder and realistic.)

The flimsy story involves three parties headed into the Chatahoochee National Forest. Sari (Keri Russell) is searching for her daughter (Brooklynn Prince) and the neighbor boy (scene stealer Christian Convery), who are lost in the woods. Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and Daveed (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.) are on the hunt for missing cocaine for Eddie's dealer dad (Ray Liotta). Bob (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) hopes to intercept the kingpin and make a big arrest. But whatever emotional reactions Banks and writer Jimmy Warden intend with these relationships make no impact. That's because we're all here to see a bear snort some coke and tear some hikers limb from limb.

And boy is there a lot of dismemberment! Barring the new Scream entry, it's likely Cocaine Bear will be the most violent movie you'll see all year, with stabbings, shootings, and disembowelments. My screening included several walkouts, and yours might too. Despite the light tone and ridiculous nature of the story, viewers need to have a strong stomach. They'll also need to overlook some sloppy editing, questionable VFX and several superfluous characters. The latter includes a gang, whose obsession with French artist Marcel Duchamp is never explained or expanded on, let alone used as a launchpad for jokes.

But there are still plenty of good gags, including an unrequited romance between a park ranger (Margo Martindale) and a wildlife expert (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and a budding friendship between Bob and his newly adopted shih tzu. They work so well that I'll forgive its initial mistake of trying to use Jefferson Starship's "Jane" in the opening, when any comedy fan knows that absurd song belongs to another '80s-set goof (Wet Hot American Summer).

Like this year's M3GAN, Cocaine Bear knows exactly what it is without striving for more or wearing out its welcome. It's a brief high, but it's glorious.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.