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April 16, 2024

Cocaine is a hell of a drug, especially when snorted by a bear

By VAREN TALWAR | March 18, 2023

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GAGE SKIDMORE / CC BY-SA 2.0

Elizabeth Banks directed the dark comedy horror film Cocaine Bear.

Somewhere in the middle of Cocaine Bear, a bag of cocaine bursts open, and, as some of the powder fortuitously settles in a straight line, the titular bear snorts it right up her nose. I think the previous sentence suffices as a summary that obviously entices readers to watch this movie.

Cocaine Bear, directed by Elizabeth Banks, is based on a real incident in which a drug smuggler threw out bags of cocaine from an airplane. The cocaine found its way to a bear, who overdosed after consuming 40 packets. Of course, that would have made for a much shorter movie, so the film presents a world where the bear goes on a drug-fueled rampage through the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

There is a mosaic of entertaining characters whose lives intertwine in the park and, in many cases, also get ended by the bear. I don’t remember most of them — on account of there being a bear on cocaine on screen — but the pundits online tell me that there was a detective (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) chasing a drug kingpin (Ray Liotta), who is trying to recover the drugs his associate threw off the airplane.

Many people die horrible, gory deaths. Luckier ones are injured beyond repair. And two kids eat enough cocaine off a knife blade to put Scarface to shame. The film takes its absurd premise and goes all the way with gratuitous bloodshed and dark humor, which, for the right audience, is a treat to watch. 

I’m not saying that Cocaine Bear is a perfect movie. There are a hundred things wrong with it. The music seems like it was taken off of YouTube, some characters are forgettable even when they’re on the screen and the climax could have been better. However, I didn’t go into the movie — and I doubt anyone will — to see anything other than a cocaine bear, and the film delivers on that count completely. 

In the modern cinematic landscape, it is rare to find such straightforward entertainment. Superhero movies about a guy with the power of ants are sprinkled with half-baked social commentary in dialogue so tacky it seems that the screenplay is a random assemblage of someone’s Twitter feed. When stories are written to dog whistle about your virtue, they turn into films nobody asks for or wants to see.

Cocaine Bear, on the other hand, is a focused film with an uncomplicated script that leverages its absurdity to excite the audience. It withholds the bear just enough to not make it boring and has multiple sequences that live up to the craziness that was promised. The human characters are used just like they were meant to be: a canvas for the bear to tear into pieces.

The film is also hilarious, especially if you have a sense of dark humor. Storylines like the detective and his new dog and the park ranger’s (Margo Martindale) crush on the conservationist (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) have the audience in splits even before things get crazier when the bear gets involved.

What I appreciate most about Cocaine Bear is that it commits to its weird premise and does not hold back. Instead of letting the film descend into a parody, Director Banks makes something that is cohesive and serious in its approach to storytelling. Many absurd premises are made into terrible movies because the filmmakers give in to the nihilism that comes with undertaking seemingly stupid projects, so it was a delight to see that Banks was bold enough to go all the way.

Cocaine Bear seems to have all the trappings of a cult classic, and I’m glad it has been a box office success. It is a refreshing example of fun and well-done cinema that we could use more of. It was economically made and marketed quite well, creating hype among audiences. Playing along with its bizarre premise pays off and is hopefully encouraging for studios to take risks like this in the future.

Cocaine Bear is a good movie, and you should definitely watch it if you can stomach the blood and gore. It is a lot of fun and holds a tight narrative that delivers on your expectations. If you look beyond the ridiculousness and internet parodies, you might actually watch a film that surprises you.


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