Cocaine Bear (2023). Film review of the comic horror about a drug-addled bear running amok

Keri Russel in Cocaine Bear (2023)


2 stars film review fair passes the time

Film review by Jason Day of Cocaine Bear (2023), the comic horror about a bear who goes on a murderous rampage after consuming cocaine dropped by a drug-runner. Directed by Elizabeth Banks.

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When a drug-runner accidentally kills himself dropping a huge cache of cocaine in a Georgia forest, his criminal spoils are sought after by a ragtag group of local kids, their families, teenage hoodlums and members of a drug cartel.

Merrily consuming some charlie is a huge brown bear who, high as a kite, becomes enraged and proceeds to hunt any human after her stash.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

Cocaine Bear¬†– also known as ‘Pablo Escabear’ – was an actual animal who in real-life fatally overdosed on a batch of cocaine in 1985 that had been dropped by drug runners in the Tennessee wilderness.

Quite what happened in reality betwixt its charlie consumption and untimely death will probably remain a mystery, but there’s (just) enough here to fashion a high-concept, one situation film that, if nothing else, showcases the true worth of a good marketing team.

During the day, I work in marketing and communications, but I wouldn’t say I’m biased with this opinion because Cocaine Bear has a great publicity machine behind it. And, considering how excessively, intestinally gruesome and seriously unfunny and haphazard it is, it needs it.

Take the trailer for instance, a sublime, shocking, hilarious nugget of wonderment that plays delightfully with the madcap story (incredibly, based on real-life events).

Then there’s the social media output, with reel upon TikTok reel of positive comments from young influencers. You think you’ll get a cracking slice of comedy/corn based on this…but you’d be wrong.

The story is ripe for silly, slapstick, broad and crude laughs, but writer Jimmy Warden and director Banks instead, unaccountably opt to up gear on the blood and guts and totally sidestep the laughs. It’s a shame because, leavened by some ghoulish gags and dark bon mots, they could have produced a little gem of a flick.

Instead, we have drawn out exposition (making a short movie appear much longer) of some boring, commonplace characters. Keri Russell plays a forumalic nurse who, despite all the bear attacking, does little nursing (as the kids are able to take care of themselves, why even write her in?) Drug cartel members Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr look as exciting as people queuing for a bus.

Isiah Whitlock Jr. shows promise as a copper left holding a gorgeous dog – of course, the pooch is left behind rather than being brought in as much needed sidekick comedy relief.

There are plenty of moments like this, where the comedy threatens to get going only to be rudely brought under control so the horror carnage can take centre stage (side note: how did something this gruesome get a BBFC rating of 15? Given how frequent and scary it is, I’d have thought it was an 18).

Two noteworthy points:

Liotta supports in one of his last performance before his death in 2022 as a comedy version of his Goodfellas (1990) persona who meets a terrible end.

The 80’s electro-synth score from Mark Mothersbaugh is bang on the money and wouldn’t be out of in place in a retro show like¬†Stranger Things. It’s an absolute delight and, as someone who loves this kind of music, had me tapping my toes throughout.

For more, see the official website.

Cast & credits

Director: Elizabeth Banks. (15).

Producers: Elizabeth Banks, Brian Duffield, Max Handelman, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Matt Reilly, Aditya Sood, Christine Sun.
Writer: Jimmy Warden.
Camera: John Guleserian.
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh.
Sets: Aaron Haye.

Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Brooklynn Prince, Christian Convery, Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Hoekstra, Matthew Rhys.


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