Cocaine Bear (2023) – A Review


A review of the 2023 comedy thriller Cocaine Bear, starring Keri Russell and Ray Liotta in his final film role. A film that seemed destined to be a fun B-movie, but ends up as a disappointment.


‘Based on a true story’ (more like exaggeratingly inspired by an incident), Cocaine Bear tells the tale of a drug run going wrong and bags of cocaine fall to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia. A black bear sticks his nose in it and goes on a killing rampage high on coke.

Simple enough.

Cocaine Bear is meant to be an over-the-top goofy horror/dark comedy. A ‘wink-wink’ campy B-movie where everyone in the film, behind the camera and sitting in the audience is in on the joke and meant to be having a good time.

It’s the same type of film that is ripped from the same cloth of fun sounding movie titles with an outrageous premise designed to be a silly Saturday night flick. You and your friends gather together get into the schlock spirit of it and revel in the absurdity of watching Snakes on a Plane, Sharknado or Killer Clowns From Outer Space

Cocaine-Bear-2023-disappointing-B-movie-comedy-thrillerEveryone had fun tweeting about Cocaine Bear when it was announced. Laughing at the title, the trailer and sharing it and getting everyone to know this movie was coming. The marketing worked beautifully. But when you sit down to watch Cocaine Bear, that jolly atmosphere will quickly begin to dissipate.

As much schlock fun as it promises, Cocaine Bear doesn’t deliver on it. It’s not funny. It’s not scary. The characters are all bland and uninteresting. The pace drags to an unbeliveable crawl. And it really doesn’t have anything that exciting to do with its cocaine-fueled black bear star for most of the film. It has its goofy sounding joke and has nothing to back it up or expand on it any further than the title.  

I guess it might be inevitable that the most fun I had from Cocaine Bear was hearing about the movie and watching the tantalizing trailer. When it comes down to the actual film – it wasn’t too good. It’s the same kind of quality you’d find in lower-budget, badly made, creature feature flicks that would fill up the weekends on the SyFy Channel. 

Cocaine-Bear-2023-Keri-Russell-Jesse-Tyler-Margo-Martindale-comedy-thrillerIn fact, in some ways Cocaine Bear is worse, since it doesn’t push the idea as far as it could have and escalated things to such joyously absurd levels.

Rather than focus on its bear star, the script and director Elizabeth Banks begins to rely on extremely dull characters and uninteresting subplots to fill the time up in the film. The amount of crazy bear action is a lot less than you’d expect and when they do come they’re not handled with any kind of panache or creative ways.

Set in 1985, (this gives the movie ample opportunities to incorporate groovy 80’s tunes in it) The bear gets a taste for coke and then tears through anything or anyone to get another fix. While an unsuspecting collection of characters are venturing into the forest and into the crosshairs of C.B.

Keri Russell as worried mom looking for her daughter and her friend. A park ranger who is crushing on another park ranger. Drug dealers looking for their stash. A cop on the hunt for the drug dealers. Paramedics responding to a call. Ray Lotta as the drug kingpin wanting to get back his bags of coke.

Somehow, the movie overcomplicates the story with way too many characters delivering humor that doesn’t land at all. We want to watch crazy bear kills. That’s what this movie has promised us and we have to wait through A LOT of tedious, long scenes before they arrive. 

The amount of time spent on weak characters doesn’t elicit any laughs and makes the wait for the promised coked up bear more and more grueling. Cocaine Bear almost becomes an endurance test! It’s a lot of dull subplots and unfunny dialogue. That’s the extent of the comedy and it takes up a whole lot of time! 

Cocaine-Bear-2023-horror-comedy-O'Shea-Jackson-Aaron-HollidayGranted, you won’t watch a movie called Cocaine Bear for high quality stories of the human condition and top notch acting. That’s one of the charms of fun B-movies. But Cocaine Bear doesn’t muster up even passably diverting scenes and dialogue for the characters to have while the bear is offscreen. It gets to the point the whole movie grinds to a halt. 

It’s fine when Jaws didn’t show the shark for a large portion of the film. We had entertaining characters, conflicts and storylines that held our attention. Cocaine Bear might be trying for a similar template, but boy there’s nothing compelling about any of the characters or stories here. 

A standoff sequence at a forest gazebo I think is meant to be some sort of a Tarantino-esque scene of combining humor and violence – neither of which works. And just goes on and on….

Cocaine-Bear-2023-Ray-Liotta-final-film-before-his-deathThere’s not one particular actor that stands out and leaves an impression. Afterwards, when you think about all the characters in Cocaine Bear you won’t remember a thing about them.

It’s almost like they thought they had the funny idea of a bear on cocaine, and then weren’t bothered to create anything or anyone interesting happening around it. 

Keri Russell and Ray Liotta are the two biggest names in the film and they don’t make any kind of mark in it. Which is sad to say, since this was Liotta’s last film he made before his death.

As for the bear scenes when we do finally get to some, they’re hit and miss. While there are some brief shots the bear looks like a real flesh and blood animal, most of CGI effects used to create the bear when he starts running, growling and attacking look a bit wonky most of the time. It’s clear you’re watching not a real animal and it’s clearly noticeable.  That would be fine, if the payoff scenes were entertaining and more creative.

There’s a certain amount of passes you give to a B-movie film like this. Terrible acting – OK. Subpar – special effects – fine. A script that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – we’ll look past that. However, being boring is unforgivable. 

Cocaine-Bear-2023-CGI-b-movie-disappoinitng-Elizabeth-BanksThe bear doesn’t really do anything too outrageously funny and the attacks aren’t filmed in any stylish or memorable ways. There’s no well laid out set pieces where tension grows and a satisfying payoff ends things on.

Sure, the bear climbs up a tree, he bites, he claws and eats folks, but none of it’s done in unique cocaine-fueled, overblown hysterical ways.

The finale that takes place on the side of a mountain cliff is cheap looking, poorly lit and confusingly choreographed and tops off with a very unexciting ending as well. 

It’s really crazy when I think how they were making a film called Cocaine Bear, where the highlights of the movie would be a giant bear high on coke – and they didn’t come up with any kind of imaginative or amusing scenarios to put the high Yogi in! It’s incredible to say that a movie called Cocaine Bear is very boring. 

It does manage to eek out a few worthy B-movie moments. The bear sniffing lines of coke. Some moments of gore and a chase with an ambulance is the closest the movie comes to what I envisioned the film would be. But it’s not rewarding enough to sit through the whole movie to get to. The film is only 90 minutes and it feels much longer than that. Gone With the Wind didn’t feel this long!

Cocaine-Bear-2023-comedy-action-thriller-attack-sceneSo, I didn’t think much of Cocaine Bear. For its intentions of being a schlocky fun Saturday night flick, it falls very short. Even cheaper B-movies that had even more outrageous bizarre premises were more energetic and entertaining. Temors, Sharknado, Snakes On A Plane, I even had more fun watching Pirannaconda

Cocaine Bear doesn’t even reach ‘so bad it’s good’ quality. It’s just a momentarily trending, forgettable movie. Aside from the title (which really helped made people take notice of it on social media and made the movie a box office success) there’s nothing else notable about it. Don’t fall for it and waste your time.

If they ever do decide to do a sequel to it, they better rethink the approach for ‘Cocaine Bear Part II’, because this film wastes the outrageous idea. 

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