Cocaine Bear is the type of movie where some studio executive hears the wacky title and immediately greenlights the project. See also Snakes on a Plane or Sharknado. The latter is apropos since Cocaine Bear feels like the type of schlocky killer animal movie that would air late night on SyFy.
Cocaine Bear was produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 Jump Street and Lego Movie fame with Elizabeth Banks in the director’s chair. While the film is a straight up comedy/horror, the true story of the cocaine bear is rather tragic, especially for animal lovers. Andrew C. Thornton II was a former DEA agent who took to smuggling cocaine from Colombia. In 1985, Thornton dumped his cargo over Georgia before plummeting to his death when his parachute didn’t open. Three months later, a black bear was found dead after having consumed 75lbs of said cocaine. The indignities continued for that poor bear as it was stuffed and landed into the hands of various collectors, including legendary country singer Waylon Jennings. None of that made the feature film. Instead, the screenplay by Jimmy Warden postulates an alternate scenario where the bear is driven into the rage.
In the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, a pair of unsuspecting hikers are attacked by a bear jacked up after swallowing a brick of cocaine. Meanwhile, a whole cast of characters converge completely unaware of the danger. Single mom Sari (Keri Russell) is on the hunt for her teenage daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), who has ditched school with her best friend Henry (Christian Convery). Sari enlists the aid of hippie dippie wildlife expert Peter (an almost unrecognizable Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and the cantankerous Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale).
In St. Louis, drug dealer Syd (Ray Liotta) wants his product back and dispatches his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and henchman Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr). Unfortunately, Eddie’s head isn’t in the game as he is still mourning the death of his wife. In Knoxville, Bob (Isaiah Whitlock Jr), a police detective investigating drug running in the south, heads down to Georgia to track down the missing cocaine. Throw in a trio of juvenile delinquents and a pair of EMTs
Cocaine Bear doesn’t shy away from being a modern-day exploitation film. Banks piles on the gore in a cartoonish, over-the-top way. There are plenty of dismembered limbs, decapitated heads, and a disembowelment for good measure. The movie isn’t afraid to take a few shots at the war on drugs in a most minimalist manner by simply presenting the hokey PSAs as they are in an opening montage. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Banks doesn’t shy away from having kids outright sampling spoonfuls of cocaine.
The CGI for the bear is fairly passable. The effects are quite convincing during one of the film’s best sequences in which the bear chases down an ambulance to the tune of “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode. Cocaine Bear definitely sets the mood with a soundtrack stacked with 80’s goodness beginning with “Jane” by Jefferson Starship and ending with, what else, “White Lines” by Pusha T.
Even at a brisk 95 minutes, including the end credits, Cocaine Bear could have still used some judicious trimming. The movie meanders about for the first and second acts as it moves a myriad of characters into place. What passes for banter just doesn’t work and you end up waiting for the bear to continue its rampage. The exception is the great Margo Martindale who is a hoot as the bitter Ranger Liz. Clearly someone in casting was a huge fan of The Americans as we also get Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in a quick cameo as Thornton II.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The disc features a bright and vivid transfer without any noticeable defects. Intricate details such as the rugged terrain of the woods and every stitch of the bear’s fur shine through.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Whether it’s the synth sounds of the 80’s music or the billowing roar of the coked up bear, the audio is well done with crystal clarity.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary track with Elizabeth Banks and producer Max Handelman.
All Roads Lead to Cokey: The Making of Cocaine Bear (9:14) is the standard behind-the-scenes featurette as we look at how the project came about, along with assembling the cast and crew.
Unbearable Bloodbath: Dissecting the Kills (8:16) focuses on the make-up and special effects that went into the movie’s goriest bits.
Doing Lines (4:00) sees the actors goofing around and reading from the script in an overly dramatic fashion.
Rounding out the disc are a gag reel, a collection of deleted & extended scenes, and an alternate ending that plays out more like an unused post-credit scene.
Film Value: 6
Cocaine Bear really cooks when there’s cocaine and a bear on screen. The story falls flat whenever we delve into each character’s personal lives and foibles. Overall, this is a fun attempt at making a mindless and bloody B-movie.