Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Cocaine Bear (2023) dir. Elizabeth Banks

Hijinks of varying quality ensue when a bear eats cocaine


What happens when a huge black bear eats a ton of cocaine? Well, it dies. But for the sake of Cocaine Bear, let’s pretend it goes on a drug-fueled rampage through the forest, tearing to pieces anyone stupid enough to get in its way. The latest directorial effort from Elizabeth Banks is ridiculous and stupid, but fun enough to paper over the fact that it’s impossibly shaggy even at just 90 minutes. The sprawling cast gives committed performances, though everyone seems to be in a different film about a bear that ate cocaine. It’s basically The Rugrats Movie with disembowelment.

In 1985, drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton (Matthew Rhys) has a parachute malfunction and falls to his death. His many bags of cocaine are strewn about the Chattahoochee National Forest for anyone to find. Small-time crime boss Syd (Ray Liotta, in his final performance) sends his men (O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich) to recover the drugs, unaware that most of it has been ingested by a giant bear terrorizing the woods and everyone it encounters, including some kids (Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery), a mother (Keri Russell) looking for them, a daring park ranger (Margo Martindale), and many more tasty victims. The characters are split up throughout the forest, each group encountering the bear at one turn or another and trying to survive. It plays more like a collection of bear-themed comedy sketches than an actual film, but there are some emotional through-lines about friendship, bravery, and a little dog named Rosette. 

So what is this, exactly? Is it an attempt at a Snakes on a Plane meme-type success, which did not even work for Snakes on a Plane? Is it a future midnight cult classic? Is it a rare studio comedy? Is it a hangout film where Margo Martindale tries to bang a wildlife enthusiast played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson? Maybe! It’s just a bit too chaotic and messy to assign one purpose. As always, I’m happy when anything that’s not a superhero film gets a wide theatrical release, even if it’s just a different kind of stupid. The theatrical landscape is bleeding out, and something like Cocaine Bear can at least draw a curious crowd. Not everything has to be a masterpiece to be worth seeing in a theater. If that were the case, the theatrical model really would be dead.

Cocaine Bear
dir. Elizabeth Banks
95 min.

Opens Friday, 2/24 at the Somerville Theatre and theaters everywhere

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