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‘Cocaine Bear’ a killer for laughs

It’s the story of a bear that gets high on cocaine and starts killing people. To be honest the plot of ‘Cocaine Bear’ sounds too ludicrous to be able to work as a feature film. Yet somehow director Elizabeth Banks (Charlie’s Angels) and screenwriter Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter: Killer Queen) have turned this outrageous story based on a real-life event into one of the best horror comedies that we have seen in a long, long time.

By David Griffiths

Saturday 25 February 2023, 11:00AM

Keri Russell in Cocaine Bear (2023). Image: IMDb

Keri Russell in Cocaine Bear (2023). Image: IMDb

As bizarre as it might sound, the events in Cocaine Bear are actually based on something that happened in real life. Basically, when it comes to the real story all that happened was a 175-pound black bear found and consumed a large quantity of cocaine way back in 1985. Sadly the bear died, but here the filmmakers take creative license and we see a bear actually begin to consume the misplaced drug shipment that belongs to a drug baron (Ray Liotta – Goodfellas).

From there the bear begins its rampage and it is there that the suspense, and comedy, begins. With the bear loose in a national park, it soon becomes the problem of Park Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale – August: Osage County), who soon reluctantly finds herself having to play nursemaid to a distraught mother, Sari (Kerri Russell – Felicity), whose daughter DeeDee (Brooklyn Prince – The Florida Project) is lost in the park alongside her best friend Henry (Christian Convery – Venom).

Also in the park, and at the mercy of the bear, are the drug baron’s son (Alden Ehrenreich – Solo: A Star Wars Story) and fellow drug dealer (O’Shea Jackson Jnr – Straight Outta Compton), a police detective named Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jnr. – Pete’s Dragon) determined to find the drugs before the criminals, a distraught backpacker (Jesse Tyler Ferguson – Modern Family) who has just watched his beloved partner get eaten alive by the bear and a group of wannabe thugs who are more bark than bite. 

At times it looks like the team of Banks and Warden had set themselves up to fail with this film. Not only is a cocaine-fuelled bear killing people not exactly a premise a lot of cinema-goers would want to see but the pair have also filled the film with characters that rightfully audiences shouldn’t care about. Sure having a mother and her daughter chased by a bear is one thing, but how do you get an audience to care whether or not a group of teenage hoods or some drug dealers make it alive?

Surprisingly, Jimmy Warden’s screenplay does just that. In a piece of scripted genius he ends up making one of the hoods a victim to others – and in that moment he seems to start to re-think his life choices – and then to put some cream on top makes one of the drug dealers a broken-hearted man who seems furious that his father got him into this lifestyle in the first place. Add that piece of human emotion to the brilliant acting performance of Alden Ehrenreich and soon you find the audience not only hoping that the criminals escape the claws and teeth of said bear but also make it out of the park and away from the police as well.

Having said all that though, cinema-goers still need to be warned that this is not a film that will be everybody’s cup of tea. There are some pretty gory moments throughout the film but to the credit of Banks she is a smart enough filmmaker to know how to play that off with a little bit of humour as well. The result is, as limbs get torn off and people fall out of trees to their death, the audience find themselves laughing rather than being repulsed.

In fact you could almost say that it is the humour and the fact that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously that ends up making Cocaine Bear work. If this had tried to be a serious film like The Revenant then it would never have worked – the cocaine storyline just makes it too comical – so the fact that Banks allows the film to run with all of its comedy ends up making it so good that it deserves to be mentioned alongside classics like Shaun of the Dead and Studio 666.

Banks not only embraces that style of comedy, she lets it flow freely even to the point where characters such as Liz the Park Ranger are not only given funny lines to deliver but they are almost portrayed as comedic cliches that are guaranteed to get the audience laughing.

If you are okay to sit through some of the gorier scenes of Cocaine Bear then you are going to be rewarded with some pure comedy. This is the kind of film that will make you laugh until your jaw hurts and at times will even have you barracking for some of the characters to survive. For a horror comedy to work this well the filmmakers had to tap into a very elusive formula and somehow, they do it with one of the most outrageous films of the year.

Cocaine Bear is currently screening in Phuket and is rated ‘18’

3.5/5 Stars

David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at 

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