Cocaine Bear is the story of a duffel bag full of cocaine and the bear that gets into it. It’s loosely based on a true story. I say loosely because, in real life, the bear promptly overdosed and died. In the film, the bear not only survives eating a bag of cocaine but it also subsequently goes on a coke-fueled rampage.
The film opens in 1985, with a series of anti-drug commercials airing on television and a drug smuggler flying high above Georgia. The smuggler kicks his shipment of cocaine out of the plane, so that it can later be retrieved from the mountains below. Unfortunately, for him, he also manages to slip and plummets out of the plane to his death. A day later, in Georgia’s Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest, two hikers are debating which band they should hire to play for their wedding when they happen to come across a black bear. The hikers decide to snap a picture of the bear. The bear, whose face is coved in cocaine, decides to eat the hikers.
Yep, both the bear and her two adorable cubs have discovered the joys of cocaine. It would probably be best to close down the park until someone can hold an intervention but, unfortunately, more and more people keep showing up. For instance, there’s a detective named Bob (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) who is determined to track down the cocaine and use it to finally take down the St. Louis’s drug kingpin, Syd (Ray Liotta, in his final film role). Syd, meanwhile, has sent his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and his employee Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) to retrieve the drugs. Daveed is determined to get the job done while Eddie, who is mourning the death of his wife, just wants to leave the family business behind. Local criminal Stache (Aaron Holliday) wants to deal the drugs himself but instead ends up bonding with Eddie. Park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) wants to pursue her crush on animal inspector Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Finally, two kids, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery) have skipped school and are lost in the park. Dee Dee’s mother (Keri Russell) is determined to rescue them and then ground them for the rest of their lives.
Yes, there’s a lot of people in this film. I haven’t even mentioned Stace’s partners-in-crime or the paramedics who pick an inopportune time to show up. The majority of the people in this film end up getting ripped apart by the bear and, make no mistake about it, the bear is the true heroine of the film. All of the actors do well with their roles, though I do wish that Liotta could have ended his career playing something other than just another psycho criminal. Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., and Alden Ehrenreich all deserve a lot of credit for bringing their characters to life. But the bear is the true star here. The bear kills a lot of people and most of the deaths are pretty bloody but, at the same time, the bear doesn’t really mean any harm. It just really likes cocaine and the majority of the people who the bear kills are killed precisely because they either got cocaine on their clothes (or face) or they allowed themselves to become a part of the cocaine trade. The bear ultimately becomes a satirical representation of every anti-drug commercial that has ever aired. If you’re not worried about overdosing, how do you feel about getting torn apart by a bear? Not so much fun being a rebel now, is it?
Cocaine Bear is an admittedly dark comedy, one in which almost all of the human characters have at least one bizarre quirk to make them memorable. Usually, I’m not a huge fan of gory comedies but the humor in Cocaine Bear has an appealingly weird edge to it. Eddie, Stache, and an annoyed Daveed playing twenty questions while looking for a duffel bag full of drugs is amusing but it becomes hilarious when combined with scenes of the bear joyfully finding more cocaine. As well, Henry and Dee Dee’s reaction to finding a brick of cocaine is every parent’s nightmare but also one to which everyone should be able to relate and maybe even chuckle at. I laughed, even as I thought, “OH MY GOD, DON’T DO THAT!”
Finally, in a time when so many movies are full of unnecessary padding, Cocaine Bear deserves a lot of credit for telling its story in 90 quickly placed minutes. The film doesn’t waste any time getting to the point and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. A lot of filmmakers could learn a lesson from Cocaine Bear.