Cocaine Bear is not so bad. What appears to be a ludicrous movie premise actually has higher aspirations.
Rather than tell the story of Andrew "Drew" Thornton, the daredevil Kentucky smuggler/pilot who off-loaded 150 pounds of cocaine in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest and died when his parachute didn’t open during a 1985 run from Colombia, it’s about a bear. A very powerful bear. Cocaine Bear.
Apparently, this one female bear found the 10-kilo bricks strewn about the forest and started to party with them. Though in real life, said bear overdosed, in Elizabeth Banks’ campy film, it’s a force of nature. Emboldened like Popeye with his cans of spinach, Cocaine Bear takes a sniff and becomes a raging death machine. Most people are terrified of bears and this one proves to be a great big mechanical monster.
Most of the characters are pretty ridiculous and probably deserve their bloody fates. High on the list is Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), who's oblivious to the bear problem as she tries to seduce ecologist Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Both don’t make it. Since the coke was earmarked to a dealer, this provides three characters: Syd (played predictably menacing by Ray Liotta in one of his final roles) and his two bumbling accomplices, Daveed (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), who all seek to recover the white stash (at least half of it was unloaded; Thorton jumped with the rest). Tennessee detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) heads to the forest and offers some the movie’s most comedic moments.
Three local teens who call themselves the Dechamps gang are like the nihilists in The Big Lebowski. They like to fuck shit up, but with Syd’s crew and Bob hot on the trail, they’re easily subdued though Stache (Aaron Holliday) manages to survive both Daveed's (who has two fingers shot off by Bob, a source of more humor) and the bear’s attacks.
There's plenty of gore - torn limbs, a decapitated head, intestines ripped from a stomach - but at least not at the hands of a depraved, violent sadistic human. The bear’s condition is not its fault. They are known to be dangerous in the wild, especially in the company of cubs, who show up late in the film (they like the coke too). So it's entirely probable the bear would lose it under the powdery influence.
Coke gives the bear a superpower - it even survives being shot point blank by Syd. The bear is like King Kong, ruler of its kingdom. It might as well beat its chest after all the havoc it reeks while feeling the stony effects of so many pounds of blow.
"It's entirely probable the bear would lose it under the powdery influence."
The one credible character is Keri Russell’s Sari. When she finds out her daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and friend Henry (Christian Covery) - both are 12 - have headed into the forest unaccompanied, she goes looking for them. The kids first find the coke - they try it in an unusual fashion - and then encounter the bear. There’s a funny scene when Henry and Peter are both followed up trees by the ravenous bear.
You'd figure several bears would have discovered the neatly packed bricks, not just one. But the focus is on this Cocaine Bear with a smart nod to the ‘80s "Just Say No" era when it all went down.
Thornton’s story is told in Sally Denson's 2016 book The Bluegrass Conspiracy. While this movie couldn’t have been made without him - he appears (played by Matthew Rhys) in the opening scene dumping bales and knocking his head - the main attraction of this audacious film is clearly Hollywood's newest star, Cocaine Bear.
An updated version of "White Lines" by Pusha T plays over the credits.
• Eddie: "The bear, it did cocaine. It fucking did cocaine."
• Henry to Dee Dee: "Let's sell drugs together."
• Henry to Sari: "Mrs. McGinley, have you ever done coke?"
• Sari to Henry: "It could create a habit for the bear."
• Eddie: "The bear is a girl. It's vagina is in my ear."
• Bob: "It's like cocaine Christmas."
• Syd: "When did you all get so soft?"