‘Cocaine Bear’ claws its way to the big screen

Stache, the teenage delinquent, and Daveed, one of the drug dealers, ventured out into the woods along with Eddie to find the cocaine bags when Eddie got crushed under the Cocaine Bear. // Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

The forest is a common setting for thriller movies, but traditional films star psychopaths or serial killers rather than a bear high on cocaine. One of Universal Picture’s newest films, “Cocaine Bear,” was released on Feb. 24, 2023. Although an R-rated action-thriller, the scripting transforms this film into a gory comedy sure to entertain. 

The concept of a drugged bear seems random, but director and producer Elizabeth Banks drew inspiration from the incident in 1985. On Dec. 23, 1985, a black bear was reported dead from an overdose after ingesting a batch of cocaine in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Some months before, drug smuggler Andrew Thornton had dropped bags of cocaine out of his plane as it went down in a crash, trying a last ditch effort to scatter the evidence of the drugs into the Chattahoochee National Forest before the plane went down. Thornton parachuted out of the falling plane, but the parachute deployment was unsuccessful and he ended up free-falling to his death.

The movie is loosely based on the true event of Thornton’s cocaine drop. The main characters of the movie are elementary school children Dee Dee and Henry, along with Dee Dee’s mother Sari (Keri Russell, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”), who finds herself searching through the forest to track down her lost daughter. Her performance as a strong, independent single mother is a serious take on the loving relationship between mother and daughter. The other storyline within the film follows drug smugglers Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr., “Den of Thieves”) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich, “Fair Play”) as they travel through the forest to get back their boss Syd’s (Ray Liotta, “Black
Bird”) lost cocaine. 

Other notable names such as Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell in “Modern Family”) and Margo Martindale (Grandma Ruby in “Hannah Montana: The Movie”) grace the film by adding quippy remarks and actions that play up the comedy, as well as their bloody encounters.

Although the film premise may appear lacking, the movie itself is nothing less than delightful. If blood and gore is a touchy subject, though, this movie is not the best option. “Cocaine Bear” uses excessive gore and blood to counteract the grievous concept of the murders, even while playing into its own outlandish concept. Token characters, such as the teenager Stache and the relationship between detective Bob and his dog, allow for constant laughs and smiles throughout the gruesome movie. These interactions in no way detract from the shield-your-eyes gore or the heart-pounding silence as the audience waits for the bear to attack. The combination of gore and comedy makes for an enjoyable experience, both in theaters and at home. 

Another important element about this adventure is the inclusion of a little romance. Most thriller movies like “Scream,” “Final Destination” and their parody movies rely partially on the blooming love between suffering characters. “Cocaine Bear” chooses to use this concept sparingly. The film plays with the opportunity of introducing a romance between main characters Sari and Eddie, but instead focuses on the love between mother and daughter as well as the heartwarming relationship between man and dog; the film chooses to subvert the stereotypes of cheesy horror movie romance. 

There are still a few couples within the film, but their murder scenes are more used as banter and to support the bear’s reputation as a ruthless killer. 

While viewers may be skeptical of the quality of a storyline following a bear on cocaine, the film is a great experience for those ready for gore and
excited for comedic thrillers. 

Be prepared to laugh, smile and flinch throughout every scene. If blood, dismembered body parts, crude language and a comically coked-up bear seems exciting, then “Cocaine Bear” is the next film to watch.