Cocaine Bear is every bit the playful, bloody, and absurd creature feature it promises to be. It takes the true story of missing cocaine in 1985 via a botched delivery and poses a funny idea: What if a bear got into all that cocaine and went on a killing spree? That’s a solid premise, but thanks to the direction of Elizabeth Banks, this horror idea turns into a delightful romp of humans feuding over cocaine and a bear who wants to do it all.
There’s a colorful enough amount of characters at play to see who will make it out of a national park that is turned into a hunting ground for the drug-fueled monster. Christian Convery and Brooklynn Prince play a delightful duo of truant kids experimenting with cocaine and running for their lives. Keri Russell plays a concerned mother/nurse seeking out the kids, willing to pick up a gun when defending kids. O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich are a mismatched gangster duo tasked with finding the cocaine. Ray Liotta is the drug dealer who wants it so badly that he’ll track them into the woods to regain his supply. Isiah Whitlock Jr. is a quirky cop seeking out the gangsters. And let’s not forget Margo Martindale as the cunning and slick-talking park ranger, willing to take some licks from the vicious bear.
The highlight, of course, is a bear whacked out on cocaine and going on a massacre of humans. His many kills are absolutely brutal and ridiculous enough to appreciate the absurdity of flying limbs and bodies being clawed. There’s also a fair amount of gunfire brutality, including one unfortunate misfire that got the biggest laugh out of me. Watching them amble about in this wickedly humorous crime story that mutates into a creature feature is fun. Watching the chaos unfold has the same fascination as Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s character watching the bear consume a whole brick of cocaine (“Let’s see what kinda effect that has on it”).
What I didn’t expect as much from this film was its overall theme of parent-child relations. This goes beyond just Keri Russell seeking out her missing child. Everybody has some level of dependency on someone younger who needs them. Alden Ehrenreich was especially sympathetic as a man grieving the loss of his wife and trying to figure out what to do with his kid. His slow realization that hunting down cocaine for his ungrateful mob dad, played by Liotta, makes for a solid arc. Other characters try to have kids and find their plans ripped apart by the big, furry drug monster. Even Isiah Whitlock Jr. has an adorable side-plot about caring for a dog he initially didn’t want.
The film’s framing does a solid job of selling the true story it’s based on and the liberties to be taken with it. In the first few minutes, we’re treated to anti-drug PSAs of the era and the actual news report of the smuggler and cocaine that dropped from the sky in a neighborhood. We also get a textual introduction on the vicious nature of bears, perfectly punctuated by the silliness of the citation being Wikipedia.
Cocaine Bear stands tall amid its B-movie vibe to be the best comical creature feature crafted from this material. The ludicrous premise will be enough to get butts in seats, but the follow-through on its ideas and characters will keep the butts there to watch Martindale get her ass clawed by the bear and O’Shea Jackson Jr. beat up an amateur Georgia gang in a bathroom. What a delightful picture of the dynamics of a family and a bear consuming cocaine while ripping people to shreds.