A couple of months ago I was catching up on one of my favourite television series, NCIS, and was intrigued to find myself watching an episode that involved a Grizzly Bear that had got into a brick of cocaine and had become an enraged monster. I was surprised that the inconceivable notion of a bear high on cocaine was inspired on real events. So, when caught wind of a new dark comedy film based on this tale titled, Cocaine Bear, I couldn’t wait to see it!
The year is 1985 and high above the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, a drug courier aircraft seemingly suffers a mechanical failure. In a panic, the lone pilot tosses out dozens of duffel bags out the aircraft into the forest below. He throws on his parachute to dive out after the suspicious luggage, but when his chute fails to open, he doesn’t make it. His demise triggers an investigation of where the drugs on his person came from. However, unbeknownst to investigators, the cocaine has been strewn across the Chattahoochee Forest and a local Black Bear has got to the cocaine first. In a drug induced rage, the bears wreak havoc.
Directed by Elizabeth Banks, Cocaine Bear is set around several storylines that all eventually cross over with the main link of the drug induced bear. Our first introduction to who I like to call ‘Pablo Escobear’, is when it encounters a back-packing Swedish couple. We get our first taste of the carnage that the bear will cause and I was laughing so hard! The bear was just living its best lift scratching against and hugging the trees but went absolutely psycho when it saw the tourists. I knew right here; I was in for a wild ride of gore and hilarity!
Henry (Christian Convery) and friend DeeDee (Brooklynn Prince) have skipped school to venture into the forest to paint a local landmark. When DeeDee’s mother Sari (Keri Russell) discovers they are playing hooky, she heads off after them. Sari meets up with the Park Ranger (Margo Martindale) and Federal Parks Inspector (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). We then have the drug dealer crew that are also venturing into the Forest with Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and his reluctant partner Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich). Hot on their tails is Detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), and last but by no means least, Ray Liotta in one of his final roles as drug boss and Eddie’s father, Syd.
As already mentioned, I know bits and pieces of the story that form the basis of this film. I was so damn excited for this and there was every chance that the film would let me down. Thankfully, it outdid itself and exceeded my expectations. Whilst relatively short at about 1.5 hours, there is more than enough to enjoy.
The smart little subplots within the overarching story are detailed enough to not be lost when the film eventually merges them all together. There is also enough within each to build a relationship with the characters. With very little time to achieve this, credit needs to be given to writer Jimmy Warden and the individuals actors that combined to help build this chemistry up quickly.
I greatly appreciated the effort put into the gory parts of the film. They were not horrific enough to make me turn away (I can get a little squeamish), but there were enough details and effects put into the film to make the characters and their misfortunes graphic but also hilarious. I definitely experienced a high level of schadenfreude for the entirety of the film. I also appreciated the mixture of subtle and overly obtuse dark humour.
O’Shea Jackson Jr. is great as Daveed. Just a run of the mill criminal, following orders that cannot believe the bad luck he is having. The constant references to his stylish kit getting damaged had me cackling. Even the need to babysit his partner and boss’s grieving son, Eddie, had me laughing. Alden Ehrenreich’s Eddie just wants out and cannot believe his luck being dragged into a hunt for the very thing he no longer desires.
Keri Russell is excellent as Sari, the determined mother to get her child back home safely. But the two children within this trio that shone the brightest, Christian Convery and Brooklynn Prince are as great as each other in their respective roles of Henry and DeeDee. Their friendship is believable, and their humorous banter is exactly the sort of thing I would have said as a kid. Smart, funny, insulting, but also endearing. Even though their time on screen together was relatively short, it was memorable and Convery’s brilliance continued throughout the film as his character Henry and Russell’s Sari searched for DeeDee.
I couldn’t go by without mentioning the late great, Ray Liotta. In what is one of his final projects, his character Syd Dentwood is selfish and greedy. He is also extremely protective of his family. Whilst his choice of profession put them in danger in the first place, he has a determination to make it right. Liotta played the perfect asshole that had thought he had good intentions, but it blew up in his face. Admittedly I have not seen many of his films, but I know that the world has lost a fantastic performer.
Whilst Cocaine Bear has plenty of blood, dismemberment, and gore, under the hood it is a dark comedy survival film with a classic good guy vs bad guy vibe. Cocaine Bear was just the crazy stupid film that I wanted it to be, and I absolutely loved it. Utterly ridiculous and fun in all the right ways.
Cocaine Bear opens in cinemas around Australia on Thursday February 23rd, 2023.