Cocaine Bear review — Something of a phenomenon (baby)

Directed by Elizabeth Banks | Written by Jimmy Warden | 95 min | ▲▲▲△△ | Amazon Prime 

Cocaine Bear is an entirely unlikely reunion of cast from The Americans. To recommend it only for that would be a mistake, but it’s definitely worth noting the movie features Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, and Matthew Rhys, though I suspect his time on set amounted to a morning of work. He might’ve made it to lunch.

I missed Cocaine Bear during its cinematic release but that’s probably for the best — expectations are likely to be more moderate if you dial it up on Prime. It’s got enough blood spilled to please the gorehounds, but what works best for this hairy high concept is the character-based humour.

Very loosely based on a true story — in the 1980s a bear did get into a stash of drugs somewhere in the American midwest, the coke had been dropped out of a plane. The drugs killed the bear. End of story.

In this version of that tragedy, the bear gets a snootful of the marching powder and gets addicted to it, going crazy in the woods. To tell you who gets eaten would be spoiling the fun, but it’s safe to say the stoned ursine changes the lives of a lot of people, including a mom in a pink jumpsuit (Keri Russell), a drug dealer and his heartbroken son (the late Ray Liotta in his final role and Alden Ehrenreich), the dealer’s soldier (O’Shea Jackson Jr), Ranger Liz (Martindale), a detective (Isiah Whitlock Jr), two Norwegian hikers (Kristofer Hivju and Hannah Hoekstra), three dumb punks (Aaron Holliday, JB Moore, and Leo Hanna), and a couple of kids (Brooklynn Prince from The Florida Project and the hilarious Christian Convery).

All of these characters are drawn remarkably well, better than the title Cocaine Bear would suggest. An outrageous incident with an ambulance and a few maulings in the woods work well to keep our interest, but never threaten to get too serious or too plausible.  Even buying an obviously digital bear isn’t a necessity for enjoying the scenario.

However, by the third act we get a scene set at night on a cliff that doesn’t convince as nighttime or even being out of doors, an abysmal misuse of studio and digital resources. Maybe by then it’s hard to take anything here too seriously, but when it feels like the filmmakers don’t really care it’s hard to muster a similar commitment.

Still, there’s plenty of silly, bloody fun to be had in the lead up.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.