Any movie with a title like Cocaine Bear is expected to be insane. What is insane is the story that inspired Elizabeth Banks’ horror-comedy. In September of 1985, a drug smuggler named Andrew C. Thornton III dropped a load of cocaine from a plane into the wilderness, as a way to lighten the load of the plane he was in, and ended up flying out, only for his parachute to fail, causing his death. What happened next was stranger than fiction, as four months later, a 175-lb black bear was found dead in the wilderness with its insides discovered to have been filled with the cocaine that fell from the plane. The bear ended up stuffed and dubbed “Cocaine Bear” or “Pablo Eskobear”, named cleverly after notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. Someone must have thought that this story would have made for a good movie idea, only instead of the bear up-and-dying, it became a monster on a coked-up rampage in a horror movie. Of course, a straight horror idea would not be taken this seriously, so why not make it a comedy, and have Elizabeth Banks direct it?
Banks has been known for directing comedies, such as Pitch Perfect 2, and the 2019 reboot of Charlie’s Angels, but Cocaine Bear may be her first horror film. First and foremost, Cocaine Bear is a comedy, and it was marketed as such. It just has a lot of killing, maimed and dismembered body parts, and a vengeful monster in the form of a black bear. This combination of grisly violence (no pun intended) and outrageous humor are what make Cocaine Bear a fun movie, even if its premise is ludicrous. The way I see it is that it seems to be a throwback to 80’s B-horror movies with John Guleserian’s cinematography and Mark Mothersbaugh’s synth-style score. It may be a modern movie, but you feel like you are in the 80’s.
From the moment the Universal logo started and Jefferson Starship’s “Jane” was playing, I was looking forward to whatever crazy shenanigans Cocaine Bear had in store. At its opening, you can tell what kind of movie it is with the unfortunate parachute incident, leading into a horror opening where two hikers fall prey to the bears’ attack reminiscent of Jaws mixed with a slasher movie, yet in a somewhat comedic way. You would think that Cocaine Bear was a parody of 80’s horror in the way it presents itself. It does remind you that it was also based on an actual event with what looks to be a mash of anti-drug PSAs and news footage. It has not been reported that the bear actually did attack anyone while on cocaine, but Cocaine Bear serves as a what-if scenario, and it does so with gruesomely gory glee, with its subject getting its power to kill mainly through the white stuff. What could be just a one-joke premise or an extended SNL skit paves way for some hilarious situations and bloody kills.
Most of Cocaine Bear is spent with a group of people such as drug runners, park rangers, a mother played by Keri Russell, her daughter (Brooklynn Prince) and friend (Christian Convery), juvenile delinquents, and detectives while the bear shows up every now and then to attack. Though the cast on display is not without interest, a lot of the players make the most of the material. Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Margo Martindale are at their humorous bests as the park rangers, while O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich’s drug runners have their comedic chances to shine. Even the late Ray Liotta shows up as the villainous drug kingpin Syd, in which he is at his most intimidating. While the cast is certainly fun, just their presences alone put the film to a standstill. When the bear shows up, that is when Cocaine Bear goes at its most outrageous. We are here to see a drug-fueled bear go on a rampage, and it delivers on those moments.
For better or worse, Cocaine Bear is a movie that happened, and is not afraid to have fun with what was at once an odd news report and turned it into a fun ride for horror and comedy fans to rejoice over!