Cocaine Bear (2023)

During a particularly stubborn bout of doing what writers do best: procrastinate - screenwriter Jimmy Warden ran across a 1985 news piece that became the seed of his next project. The true story involved the news of a 175-pound black bear that was found dead in the Chattahoochee wilderness of Georgia. A later necropsy determined that the bear’s stomach was filled with some 35 pounds of cocaine.

Knowing that he had the inspiration for his next movie, Warden sat down to write, but soon realized that having the bear die of a drug overdose would be too much of a downer. After all, no one wants to see the animal die, right? So, instead, he decided to have his coked up bear kill a lot of people. Now that’s a movie! And that’s exactly the kind of humor we expect from a movie called Cocaine Bear, right?

"sorely missing is the humor needed to pull off a film called Cocaine Bear"

Well, unfortunately, that’s not what we get with Cocaine Bear. Sure, the film gleefully fulfills its basic expectations with cleverly-executed moments of over-the-top death and carnage perpetrated against a cast of Darwin Award winning rubes. And yes, Elizabeth Banks – who directs – shows a deft hand with her many set pieces.

But sorely missing is the humor needed to pull off a film called Cocaine Bear. Granted, Warden and Banks do concoct a few chuckles here and there, but most are of the uncomfortable variety as gnawed-off body parts fly across the screen while strings of human entrails pile up on the forest floor. However, despite the mile-a-minute barrage of quips, antics, gags, and puns, barely more than a handful lands as delivered from a cast of bumbling characters which Banks mostly struggles to handle.

Among those characters encountering the coked up bear at various points are a couple of school-skipping kids, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), Henry (Christian Convery), and Dee Dee’s single mother, Sari (Kerri Russell), who is constantly on the run to find the lost children.Cocaine Bear (2023)

Other side plots involving the drug smugglers, led by Syd (the late Ray Liotta who gets a loving tribute during the film's end credits) and his knuckle-headed minions tasked with retrieving their lost packs of cocaine, a lovestruck Park ranger (Margo Martindale), a pair of hapless medics, and a various and sundry assortment of hikers, park visitors, and guests make it somewhat entertaining to guess which will be the next to stare down the powdered nose of this coked up cocaine freak.

Speaking of encountering the titular bear: here’s where Banks finds her biggest success. As expected, this drug-fueled ursine is not only smarter than your average bear, it also harbors the biggest cocaine habit this side of Tony Montana, and will do anything to feed that need. Anything. And really, the film only works whenever the 500-pound flimsily rendered apex predator is on the screen as it slices, dices, rips, and shreds its way through human fodder as it seeks out the next high. While genre lovers will likely wallow in the film’s gonzo attitude and style, it never comes close to being as wild and, ahem… gutsy, as it tries to be.

Even at a brisk 95 minutes, the film feels slightly long as it leans a bit too heavily on its one joke premise. However, credit Banks and her all-in cast who never take this thing too seriously. If only a few more of the jokes had hit. And forget about taking a satisfying bite out the film’s flimsy themes and metaphors which touch on mom power, and the complicated relationship between parents and children. They really bring nothing to the slaughter.

2/5 stars

Film Details

Cocaine Bear (2023)

MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence and gore, drug content and language throughout.
95 mins
: Elizabeth Banks
Jimmy Warden
Keri Russell; Alden Ehrenreich; O'Shea Jackson Jr.
: Comedy | Horror
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Memorable Movie Quote: "Don't worry. Bears can't climb trees."
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
February 24, 2023
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: An oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists and teens converge on a Georgia forest where a huge black bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine.


Cocaine Bear (2023)