Cocaine Bear

Cocaine Bear

2023, R, 95 min. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. Starring Keri Russell, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Christian Convery-Jennings, Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Brooklynn Prince.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., March 3, 2023

With Cocaine Bear already something of an internet phenomenon, a few publications have taken this moment to reflect on the early virality of Snakes on a Plane. And while that film may offer a fascinating history level on the intersection of the internet and popular culture, it also is not a particularly great benchmark for Elizabeth Banks’ new horror film. Whatever the trailers might suggest, Cocaine Bear takes a would-be gimmick and gives it the serious, B-movie effort it deserves. The result is something surprisingly both surprisingly sincere and effective in its desire to entertain.

Loosely based on a true story – the cocaine part, anyway – Cocaine Bear follows three groups of strangers who accidentally converge on the stomping grounds of a coked-up black bear. Gangsters Daveed (Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Ehrenreich) are tasked with recovering a fortune in cocaine dumped across the Georgia countryside. Hot on their heels is Bob (Whitlock Jr.), a Tennessee detective who is chasing a career-making arrest. Finally, there is Sari (Russell), a single mother whose daughter (Prince) goes missing in the woods. But between them and survival is an enormous black bear whose taste for blood is only matched by his taste for snow – metaphorically speaking, of course.

Few horror-comedies can walk the tightrope between horror and humor for a feature-length run times. In most cases, the competing demands of their respective genres only serve to dull both edges. But Cocaine Bear is a success in much the same way that Violent Night was a success just a few months ago: by putting the emphasis on a handful of extremely gnarly kills and sprinkling in just enough weirdness to keep the entire train moving. We may never confuse the title bear for an actual animal – the glory days of Bart the Bear have certainly come and gone in Hollywood, and this creature is more uncanny than valley – but the first rule of creature features is putting good actors in thin roles and letting them carry the material through to the set-pieces. And that is exactly what Cocaine Bear does.

Ehrenreich offers a surprisingly morose take on his reluctant gangster. Martindale is dialed up to 11 as a horny and spiteful park ranger. Even Prince and Convery-Jennings – child actors in a genre that often has no clue what to do with children – offer fresh takes on their characters without falling into the profane tropes worn out by Judd Apatow imitators of the 2010s. And with just enough characters to hold the absurd premise together, we can focus on what really matters: a handful of gloriously violent bear attacks that will earn a spot on multiple Best Kill lists of 2023 (the ambulance chase scene, hinted at heavily in the trailer, is the true standout sequence of the film). There is no waffling on violence here; Banks and company set out to earn their R rating the hard way, and they’ll kill any supporting characters who stand in their way.

And isn’t that really all that matters? If you are in the market for a movie called Cocaine Bear, all you want to know is that the premise does not jump the shark in the very first act. If nothing else, it seems that Elizabeth Banks has used Cocaine Bear as an excuse to work with several of her favorite television actors of the 2010s – and then kill them off in the most glorious ways possible. There are far, far worse reasons than that for a movie to exist.

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Cocaine Bear, Elizabeth Banks, Keri Russell, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Christian Convery-Jennings, Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Brooklynn Prince

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