If you’ve ever wondered what a pissed-off, cocaine-fueled bear might do, then this funny movie from 2023 has all the answers you’re looking for.
Based on a real-life incident and reinterpreted with (a lot of) cinematic freedom, the story begins with drug mule Andrew Thornton flying his airplane over the green landscapes of Georgia.
Attempting to parachute out, the smuggler dies, smashing to the ground in Tennessee while the bags with the precious cargo end up in the vast Chattahoochee-Oconee forest.
Of course, the boss who had purchased the drug, the ruthless Syd, wants to recover it at all costs, so he sends his henchmen, Daveed and Eddie, to find the cocaine.
Also tracking the drugs is Detective Bob, who is investigating what remains of Thornton’s corpse that fell from the sky, trying to reconstruct the route of his plane.
Meanwhile, lively child Dee Dee decides just that day to skip school, slipping out of mama Sari‘s control to go to the same forest with her friend Henry.
Naturally, Sari is angry and worried, realizing her baby is missing, so she joins the general expedition to Chattahoochee-Oconee.
Unfortunately for all these characters, a giant black bear finds one of the duffle bags and eats all the cocaine, enjoying the blast so much that he also begins searching for the rest of Syd’s precious powder.
At that point, the bear becomes an unstoppable killing machine with a severe addiction, mauling and tearing apart anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path.
An unBEARable yet effective compelling horror
Cocaine Bear relies on the grotesque and absurd without pretending to be anything more meaningful, deserving a proud place among many other 2023 movies precisely because it deliberately chooses never to be serious.
Elizabeth Banks finally finds the right direction after a series of less successful cinematic forays, such as the lousy Pitch Perfect 2 or Charlie’s Angels remake, both poorly received by critics and audiences alike.
In this case, however, the beautiful actress and director freely revel in the sheer craziness nature of this story, albeit based on real events, while also engaging spectators to accept the absurdities happening on screen without too much question.
Banks create a little homage to the b-movies of yesteryear, rediscovering the appeal of that kind of pure entertainment that, unfortunately, has largely fallen out of use today.
This return to the roots and easy vibe of a bygone era has a nostalgic and evocative flavor evoking sweet memories of cult flicks such as Tremors, for example, or the disturbing The Stuff, that incredible killer ice cream from 1985 that branded the imaginations of many moviegoers.
Sure, the characters or the overall context don’t shine with originality, and most situations are just disposable, momentary fun.
However, coming out of the theater, I saw many faces with smiles as satisfied as mine, a sign that whatever criticism you want to make, this movie still works.
The killing scenes are pleasantly splattered, made with practical special effects and restricting CGI only for the killer bear, packed with good pacing and never overdramatizing while always leaving plenty of space for comedy.
Many situations are also cruel, yet we still laugh sadistically at, for example, what happens to poor Margo Martindale as the hapless Ranger Liz without feeling guilty but instead wanting more.
All together, lost in the woods
We continue by directing our attention to the cast of this 2023 movie, whose assortment of performers turns out to be visibly enthusiastic about participating in this unabashedly excessive production, contributing with flair to the general hilarity and light-heartedness against the Cocaine Bear brutality.
The undisputed leading lady, Keri Russell, embodies the familiar figure of a brave mother, as beautiful and delicate as ever, even if she perhaps rushes a little too hastily into an adventure of questionable credibility.
However, we said that our primary goal is to be drawn into the anarchic mood of the movie rather than to profoundly investigate the complex psychological dynamics of the characters.
They are a modern incarnation of Hansel and Gretel in the setting of today’s kids and all their social networks, often the center of interest more than the mother herself, unexpectedly in danger in the terrifying pitfalls of a forest where there is a monster stalking them.
Despite Liotta, the real fulcrums of the crime side are the henchmen O’Shea Jackson Jr. as the indomitable street tough, and Alden Ehrenreich, the boss’s son, whose interest in his ex-girlfriend seems to override his concern for his father’s drug reclamation mission.
Finally, let’s also mention the older but equally fierce Isiah Whitlock Jr. as a detective who meets a grisly end and Margo Martindale as Ranger Liz, arguably, the most hapless and martyred character from the Bear.