By Owen Glancy
By Jack McLaughlin
Ever since its announcement last year, “Cocaine Bear” was one of the most highly anticipated films to release in 2023. Come Feb. 24, the movie would finally be released. The verdict? It was massively disappointing.
Much of the film’s initial hype centered around the fact that it was loosely based on a true story. The expert marketing led to a frankly absurd level of hype going into the film - not something usually seen for this type of film.
“Cocaine Bear” is the directorial debut of Elizabeth Banks, who unfortunately does not take the outlandish concept of a coked-out bear to its full potential. This film suffers from an eye-catching concept that is bogged down by a boring script and weak performances all across the board.
This isn’t apparent from the start, as the opening scene is hysterical. Seeing a man clearly high on his own supply chucking bags of cocaine from an airplane is an appropriately absurd way to start the film. Sadly, many scenes do not ever again meet this high bar of insane fun.
The film blends the stories of two groups together who come in contact with the bear - one group consists of a young girl’s mother and friend who are searching the woods for the girl who was attacked by the bear early on. The second group consists of the drug dealers who are responsible for the cocaine getting into the forest, and are trying to retrieve the missing drugs.
Neither of these groups is particularly interesting. The mother-daughter relationship they try throwing into this story falls flat as there are few moments that establish and build the relationship to the point where there is not a proper payoff to it. It doesn’t help that the mother is an alarmingly horrible parent whose concern for her child feels strangely forced.
The drug dealers are a bit more interesting. The conflict between a gruff father and reluctant son is generic, but its simplicity makes sense in a story like this.
Of the drug dealers, the two we follow for most of the film are Daveed and Eddie, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich respectively. Their characters are introduced in some interesting ways and they initially seem like they might be fun characters to follow around.
Sadly, this promise of a fun central duo is dashed when the two get their first real scene to themselves. While on a car ride to the woods where the cocaine is, they get into a conversation. This conversation is filled to the brim with generic lines, spotty delivery, poor comedic timing, and a generally awkward flow of dialogue. It immediately makes the audience dread any future interactions between these two.
The already large pool of characters gets even more saturated with the introduction of a crazy park ranger, deranged teens, and a police officer with a heart of gold. This dilutes what should be an insane movie by introducing too many zany characters to care about or remember.
With a title like “Cocaine Bear,” you would think the titular character would be in the film quite a bit. Unfortunately, the bear’s screen time is extremely limited. What we do get are the best parts of the film. The scenes of pure carnage and unpredictability from the bear are a joy to watch.
The middle of the story offers one of, if not, the best moment from the bear. At this point, a group of EMTs operating an ambulance are investigating one of the bear’s massacres inside of a cabin. Once they realize the bear is still in the cabin and they choose to escape, what ensues is a hilarious chase around the park where the bear is trying to catch up to the ambulance.
The build-up to the chase is excellent, slowly revealing the bear’s location with a stressful escape from the cabin creates the most tension in the film.
The direction of this chase is what makes it so much fun. There is a constant threat that is unstoppable against its victims, and the thrill of them trying to escape makes it all the more satisfying once the bear catches up to them. The scene is paced excellently, with the only downside of it realizing that nothing after this moment comes even close to being as fun.
The bear is often one of two things, a plot device or a threat. In the limited time where the bear is a threat, the film is very fun. However, when it acts as an arbitrary off-screen obstacle, it’s super lame.
The film’s more commonly used antagonist is Syd played by Ray Liotta. Syd is the leader of a drug smuggling organization who enters the woods to find the lost cocaine. His character, while excellently acted, suffers from truly bland dialogue. While this dialogue can occasionally be funny, such as his introduction scene where he is babysitting his grandson, it’s mostly generic villain speech.
The lighting used in particular scenes can act as a detriment to the film. In one of the scenes with the bear, there is a constant struggle to figure out what is happening on-screen as it is nearly impossible to see what is going on. This hurts what could have been a great scene by making it nearly impossible to enjoy it visually.
A film’s score can often elevate it to greater heights, or even redeem films that fall short in other aspects. The score of “Cocaine Bear” does the exact opposite. While not horrible, it’s so bland and forgettable that it makes any potentially dramatic or unique scenes fall flat.
Speaking of forgettable, the film lacks a strong visual style that coincides with the bizarre story it is telling. The cinematography and editing are surface level, with many shots and sequences leaving much to be desired.
There aren’t many points where “Cocaine Bear” will wow any viewers. The far and few moments in the 90-minute feature that will resonate with you are outweighed by a story that will leave your brain the next day.
The film’s biggest weakness is a lack of clear focus and vision. The title, marketing, and certain scenes suggest that this is a film about a bear getting high on cocaine and going on a rampage. Sadly, it’s far too afraid to do anything truly zany or creative as it falls back on the safe and predictable human drama elements.
“Cocaine Bear” is a blatant example of a new director being far too ambitious. The promise of a fun and crazy monster film is lost in a sea of mediocrity and inexperience. While not entirely worthless, most scenes with the bear are genuinely entertaining, the vast majority of the film is spineless and devoid of an artistic soul.
D+ - too much cocaine, not enough bear