Cocaine Bear is the big, dirty, delicious 3am kebab of 2023 movies. Like all guilty pleasures, it’s a little bit rough around the edges, and you wouldn’t necessarily want to admit that you indulged in it, but if you take it as it is in all of its filthy, unhinged glory, then you’ll have a whale of a time.
The title in itself is pretty self-explanatory, but as writer Jimmy Warden explained in his interview with The Digital Fix, the Cocaine Bear true story of a misplaced drug package and an over-indulgent bear merely sets the scene for the chaos that ensues throughout the film.
Using the real-life scenario as a launchpad for an original plot as opposed to the more traditional movies based on a true story route definitely works in Cocaine Bear’s favour. It means everyone can revel in the sheer ridiculousness of the premise without being tied down to things like realism.
The comedy movie is rich with campy melodrama and one-liners — with the late Ray Liotta, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Christian Convery, and esteemed character actress Margo Martindale especially shining — but it also doesn’t shy away from gore or more tension-building moments. I’d say that the gore means that Cocaine Bear isn’t a film for the faint of heart, but I feel like the title itself makes that pretty self-explanatory.
As funny as the film is, some of the jokes verge on a little too cheesy, and there’s some cast members who are stronger than others. Sure, the actors are playing parodies of archetypes rather than characters in and of themselves, but some of the characters’ responses to situations just felt so absurd to the point that it was hard to get immersed.
Although Keri Russell’s character, for instance, shines in an action and comedic sense, she really seems disturbingly calm for someone whose teenage daughter is potentially being mauled by a bear. Call it adrenaline, sociopathy, or whatever you want — but I feel like if my own child was kidnapped by a bear, I wouldn’t really be in the mindset to be making silly little quips.
On a bad day, I’d call this shoehorning of jokes the Marvel-ification of movies, but it’s important to remember that the premise of Cocaine Bear is so absurd, it can’t really be held to the same standard of a new movie that actually aims to be good.
That being said, the CGI work in Cocaine Bear is by far some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Not only does the bear look realistic, but it is also animated in such a way that its personality (?) shines through. Sure, the bear hasn’t got any lines, but its characterization through animation alone is remarkable, and is something live-action Disney remakes like The Lion King might want to take note on.
The various sub-plots in this film all connected by the bear are a little thin, and there are so many of them, it can be a little challenging to keep track of things. It’s clear that the scenes of the bear going batshit crazy are the ones that writers and directors paid attention to, but these scenes are so insane, they almost make up for the lack of plot and development outside of the titular bear.
Ultimately, Cocaine Bear as a whole is strongest when it doesn’t try too hard. I think everyone involved in the film knows that it’s never going to win any Oscars — and none of these actors (except the bear, maybe) are setting out to give the performance of a lifetime — but not every movie needs to be a huge IP, or a profound meditation on pain or politics. Sometimes, movies can just be a little bit of fun: and Cocaine Bear is just that.
You got the bear. You got the cocaine. What more can you ask for?