Review: Schlocky ‘Cocaine Bear’ a minimal cinematic treat

Keri Russell in Cocaine Bear (Universal Pictures)

Often expectations play a role in the enjoyment of entertainment. Sometimes our expectations can spoil an otherwise decent movie, but other times, our excitement can bolster a mediocre effort in the theater of our head.

Objectively, a movie is what it is, but we all see it from a different lens based on our experiences, preferences, and dislikes. Whether we want to admit it or not, when we see a movie, and our mood at that time can play a role in our enjoyment and opinion of a film.

Keep that in mind when you read that I had a good time watching “Cocaine Bear.”

It’s the type of movie made better by watching it with a group of friends out to have a good time.

I won’t try to convince you that it’s a great movie. It’s not. While I did have a fun time watching it, “Cocaine Bear” had its lulls.

After the initial introduction of the cocaine-chomping fiend, the film takes its time getting back to the mayhem, probably too much time, kind of like those old Toho-produced Godzilla flicks. Forget the talky, talky, and let’s get to the carnage.

Unlike say “Jaws” where Steven Spielberg continues to build tension while placing his chess pieces on the board, director Elizabeth Banks meanders a bit too much in introducing the film’s players.

I kept asking to myself, where’s the bear?

Eventually she does show up again about a third of the way through the movie, and the mayhem ensues. The trailers don’t give up all the goods with this very graphic and gory film that’s filled with chompable numbskulls, but it does give up a lot.

The best, funniest, and maybe goriest sequence of the movie does concern an extended bear attack on a Forest Ranger’s station that’s one part werewolf-mauling, two parts Three Stooges humor with a sprinkle of Quentin Tarantino-esque gunplay on top. This set piece made the movie for me.

While I’d argue the movie’s pace suffered from its lumbering setup, I’ll admit knowing the characters did payoff in the back half of the movie.

The crux of the plot — inspired by an actual drug drop in the 1980s — is that a drug dealer dumps hundreds of pounds of cocaine out of an airplane over Tennessee and Georgia, and after a large bear ingests some, she goes on a rampage seeking more.

I suppose more than a few who lived through the 1970s and ‘80s have been there?

That search brings the bear into conflict with a mother looking for two children who are playing hooky in the woods, three drug dealers looking for their product, three other knuckle-heads, a police detective, two park employees, and some hikers.

All of the performers in the movie pull off their roles, but there are two standouts. First is Christian Convery as pre-teen Henry, and next is Keri Russel as Sari, a nurse who is searching for her daughter Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince), who is friends with Henry.

Convery steals every scene he’s in. I’d watch a movie or streaming series about his character’s continued adventures. Russell is strong as the movie’s other mamma bear, grounding every scene she is in.

Man, do I miss Russell’s TV series “The Americans.” Incidentally her co-star on that show, Matthew Rhys, plays the drug smuggler who dies while dumping the cocaine out of an airplane.

O’Shea Jackson, Alden Ehrenreich, and the late Ray Liotta are also on point as gangsters. Margot Martindale is too as Liz, a horny Forest Ranger in this horror/comedy that’s a schlocky ode to all the rip-off movies “Jaws” spawned in the 1970s.

I found the movie funny, very funny at times, but also cliched and too on the nose for a film that is basically making fun of genre movies. The movie’s pacing did it a disservice, too. In some places it sticks too long on a bit, losing the some of the effect.

Overall, though, I had a fun time with the movie. It made me laugh and gasp a few times from it’s graphic depiction of violence.

Watching it was kind of like having a Twinkie. You know it’s ultimately not good for you, but it tastes good enough while you’re eating it.

(R) 1 hr. 35 min.
Grade: C

New in Local Theaters – Feb. 24, 2023

Cocaine Bear (R) 1 hr. 35 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight)
Jesus Revolution (PG-13) 2 hr. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne)

Classic Corner – Bear Necessities

The opening of “Cocaine Bear” this week sparked a stroll down memory lane of some of the more prominent bears-gone-wild flicks.


This 1976 film rips off “Jaws,” which opened the summer before to monster success. “Jaws” coined the term “blockbuster” because of the lines of people that wrapped around blocks to wait in line for tickets.

The producers of “Grizzly” wanted to see if they could cash in on some of that audience with a land-based version of Spielberg’s masterpiece.

If not original film-making, the movie was fun with a marketing campaign that included line like “It’s not just a camping ground; it’s a feeding ground” and “The deadliest paws on land belong to Grizzly” as slogans.

Despite the cheap special effects — even for the time — the movie isn’t that bad and it has some decent scares.

» Watch trailer

The Edge

If you like scene chewing along with your bear-attack movies, “The Edge” from 1997 is the movie for you. Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin star as two rivals for the love of Elle McPherson, who are lost in the wilds of Alaska, and are being stalked by a rouge Kodiak bear. The question is, whether they will kill each other before the bear does the job. The hammy film has some fun twists and turns, and it’s interesting to watch Hopkins and Baldwin attempt to out-act each other.

» Watch trailer

The Revenant

This 2015 movie directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu received 12 Oscar nominations, including wins for Leonard DiCaprio for Best Actor and Emmanuel Lubezki for Best Cinematography. The bear attack that initiates the movie is raw, chilling, and brutal as any animal-attack scene ever filmed. The movie grows long in the tooth for my tastes, but there is no questioning the talent brought to bear on this production.

» Watch trailer

Grizzly Man

This 2005 documentary by Werner Herzog about bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell is one of the most compelling and chilling pieces of film-making I’ve ever seen. Treadwell and his girlfriend were mauled to death by a bear in the wilds of Alaska in 2003 after he had lived among them for months at a time over a five-year period. This documentary is culled from 100 hours of footage Treadwell shot as well as audio recorded throughout his adventures. Herzog interviews family, friends, and acquaintances of Treadwell, as well wildlife experts for the film. Basically they all thought Treadwell was crazy. You’ll likely agree if you watch this film.

» Watch trailer