Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Cocaine Bear’ on VOD, a Quasi-Campfest That’s a New Low in Getting High

Cocaine Bear (now streaming on VOD services like Amazon Prime Video) is surely the stupidest BOATS movie ever. Yes, it’s Based On A True Story, but only (apologies for what’s about to come) (brace yourselves) just BEARly (you may groan now), because in real life, the bear that got into a drug smuggler’s lost cocaine ate a whole bunch of it and died, the end, but that’s not a movie. THIS is a movie: Elizabeth Banks directs Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta (RIP) and several others who play people trying not to get their guts yanked out by a very very very very very very jacked bear. Well, theoretically it’s a movie; what we might have here in reality is a silly idea that doesn’t deliver on the B-camp/trash premise.

The Gist: It’s 1985. Nancy Reagan. This is your brain; this is your brain on drugs. Bangs. Rat tails. Scandal featuring Patty Smyth. Etc. A rootin’-tootin’ – literally tootin’ – drug guy tosses from an airborne plane duffel bags with strappy rainbow-colored handles (think Mork from Ork’s suspenders) full of nose candy. He tries to follow the millions of bucks worth of powder into the Chattahoochee National Forest, but his chute doesn’t open, and that’s it for him. CUT TO: A couple of Norwegian hikers, Olaf (Kristofer Hivju) and Elsa (Hannah Hoekstra) – get it? OLAF and ELSA? – who spot a bear over yonder, just scratching its back on a tree trunk. Then headbutting the tree. Then rampaging toward them. There’s a roar, a severed leg, lots of blood, the title card, then the bear, center frame, rabid with blood dripping from its snout, distracted by a random butterfly. 

Now this is the part of the movie where the “important” characters get introduced. Sari (Russell) is a single mom who works as a – what could it be – what’s the profession of all Movie Single Moms – yep, you guessed it – nurse. She single-moms Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince of The Florida Project), who ditches school to go check out the falls in the Chattahoochee with her pal Henry (Christian Convery). Uh oh. Meanwhile, Daveed (Jackson) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) are dope-dealing dopes tasked with tracking down the lost coke, under the orders of Eddie’s sleazy crime lord dad Syd (Liotta). They trek to the national park and, before they figure out that the bear is high as a cumulonimbus and attacking folks, have encounters with park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), the wildlife expert she’s shtoinking (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and three teenage delinquents (Aaron Holliday, J.B. Moore and Leo Hanna). Also meanwhile, a couple of cops are also trying to chase down the drugs, Bob (Isaiah “Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-it” Whitlock Jr.) and Reba (Ayoola Smart). Among all these people, there’s plenty here for a speedballed bear smorgasbord, it seems.

Beyond this, there just ain’t much movie here. Bricks of coke litter the forest. Kids find coke, dealers find coke, cops find coke, delinquents find coke, bear keeps finding coke so it can sustain its rampage. It’s definitely more into inhaling the coke than killing people, but it’s pretty good at killing people. And climbing trees, and breaking down doors. The character development during this nonplot is such that we’re divided between being on Team Bear or Team Dumbasses Who Don’t Shoot The Bear With A Gun When Given Multiple Opportunities To Do So – so Team Bear it is, then. We probably wouldn’t want it any other way, unless it was a way that resulted in a good movie, but that’s just not happening here.

Cocaine Bear movie poster
Photo: Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: In the battle between movies that are more movie titles than actual movies, you’ve got Cocaine Bear vs. Snakes on a Plane, and we all lose.

Performance Worth Watching: Ever a good sport, Russell emerges unscathed from this barely written crud.

Memorable Dialogue: Famous last words:

Olaf: If it’s black, fight back. If it’s brown, lay down.

Elsa: Is it black or is it brown? Looks brown to me.

Sex and Skin: None. 

Our Take: I’m no snob: I like junk cinema. Love it sometimes, even. But Cocaine Bear has no style, no suspense, no functional comedy. It wastes a cast, dense with talent, on a script (by Jimmy Warden) that seems to have been scribbled on the back of a vomit bag during an extra-drowsy redeye flight. There’s little consideration for character, pacing or dialogue, no decent opportunities for a great character actor like Liotta, Whitlock or Martindale, all masters at a whip-crack line-reading, to steal a scene. As for the bear, it looks great, a rather convincing use of motion-capture CGI, but the kills – let’s face it, movies like this need some good, funny, OTT kills – are uninspired, all gore and no gusto.

Banks sets the pace at an aimless meander, and seems to avoid any opportunities to engage in satire (she glances off the just-say-no-to-drugs PR campaign that helped define the 1980s) or even token commentary on conservationism (we’re inclined to root for animals over idiot humans all day, but the film seems to shrug at that dynamic). Granted, anything titled Cocaine Bear isn’t going to be the type of movie that Resonates. That has you pondering as the credits roll. That inspires us or meaningfully engages our emotions. It’s escapism, which is best when delivered with energy, an edge, even a little shock value. It has to hold us in the moment. But with Cocaine Bear, you’re more likely to be looking ahead to the moment when you can do something else.

Almost tasteful, boring, non-impactful…

Our Call: Bottom line: Cocaine Bear is, against the odds, boring. SKIP IT. 

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.