In the immortal words of Rick James: Cocaine is a hell of a drug. That’s a lesson a 175 pound American black bear learned one September in 1985. After a drug trafficker dropped several containers of cocaine from an airplane flying over Tennessee, the animal stumbled across a few of them and ingested them. Now, what exactly happened after that is not entirely known, but the bear was eventually found dead months later, with a medical examiner stating the bear’s stomach was “literally packed to the brim with cocaine”. The bear was later taxidermied and can be found residing in a Kentucky mall, earning the monikers Cocaine Bear, and my personal favorite, Pablo Escobear.
So the actual story itself isn’t anything all that crazy, but the concept of a bear doing cocaine is so bizarre that it’s almost begging to be embellished on. Despite a movie like this being right up Troma or The Asylum’s alley, Universal must’ve felt like they had something left in the tank to give us a new age creature feature, getting notable names attached to the project like Elizabeth Banks to direct and Phil Lord and Chris Miller to produce. And for the most part, Cocaine Bear is the kind of campy fun sorely missing from mainstream Hollywood, with an outlandish premise that lends itself to cartoonish characters and violence. Yet, its that very premise that feels too daunting to handle believe it or not, as the film tends to feel disappointedly restrained at times, putting more focus on the less interesting aspects rather than the titular coked out predator.
Much of the setup remains the same as what really happened, although this time the bear goes on an absolute rampage, attempting to tear apart every person it comes across. Said persons include a group of kids playing hooky, a trigger happy park ranger, a do-good detective and a couple of drug runners looking to recover their lost product.
There’s quite a few intertwining stories revolving around the bear’s killing spree, and if I’m being honest, there’s a bit too much going on in this narrative to the point where it just feels bloated. There’s a lot of character arcs and differing dynamics here that occasionally lead to some good comedy, while others just feel kind of forced in, attempting to add an emotional element that I don’t really think was needed. Out of the many characters we get I probably enjoyed the two kids the most, and honestly wish the film focused on them more, while getting less focus on the supporting players and more attention on the bear. Yet there are some fun comedic performances here, from Alden Ehrenreich, to O’Shea Jackson Junior, to completely unhinged, acclaimed character actor Margot Martindale. This is even one of the last performances of the great Ray Liotta, and while he’s fairly good here, I do wish we got more of him. Even with these decent performances, I do feel like they take too much time away from the central conflict; a bear high on cocaine. The beast is used sparingly, never feeling too overexposed while also delivering on some pretty gnarly moments of violence. The ambulance sequence is both brutal and hilarious; certainly the highlight of the film for me. I just can’t help but feel like we didn’t get enough of the over the top violence a premise like this should deliver on. This is one of those instances where I actually wouldn’t care if the characters weren’t given development, emotional beats, or interesting backstories. It’s not really needed, but what is needed is silly, gorey fun and some effective tension. Those small bits of fun just don’t happen often enough, eventually leading to a pretty underwhelming climax.
The narrative is far too conventional for a film like this, never really taking risks or showing left field ideas. The film really feels the need to stuff in an emotional journey for a mother finding her daughter, a drug lord’s son standing up to his father, and…a detective wondering if he got the right kind of dog? These emotional moments don’t work at all, feeling tacked in to appeal to the average audience goer. Something like this needed a bit more nihilism, a bit more of an edge in my opinion. The film does try to instill some unique identity via certain editing choices that, if I’m being honest, don’t really work. They’re essentially quick cutaways done for comedic effect, but I only remember these being funny once while some either felt unneeded or like footage was missing. There’s a scene where one of the characters is like “we should look out for the bear. Remember what he did to that one guy?”, and then it just cuts to them finding a dead body. It’s not played for laughs, so it just feels really jarring. The comedy doesn’t always hit, but its consistent enough that I rarely found myself bored or unengaged. Seriously, it would take serious talent to make a bear high on cocaine boring, and while the film sometimes leans in that direction, as a whole, it’s pretty okay.
This is an attempt at some of the mindless, B-movie mayhem of yesteryear that comes close to living up to its premise while still stumbling to fully embrace the madness. When the bear is allowed to do its thing, the movie rocks at delivering dumb bloody fun. The characters certainly have their humorous moments even if some of them get a bit too much attention. Overall there is certainly fun to be had here, even if I was hoping for something much more batshit. Still, the genre of intoxicated animals is one I can certainly get behind.
Next up on the list? Attack of the Meth Gator. I am 100% serious.
Time for a legal buzz. Cocaine Christmas is a smokey and sweet combination of mezcal, white cranberry juice, and honey; an excellent balance of a variety of flavors that is both palatable but complex. Complete the drink with a rim coated in that white, powdery good stuff…sugar.
- 2oz Mezcal
- 2oz white cranberry juice
- 3/4oz lime juice
- 1/2oz honey
- Rim: Sugar
- Run a lime wedge over the rim of a cocktail glass, then coat the rim with sugar.
- Add ingredients to a shaker and shake with ice.
- Strain cocktail into prepared glass.