‘Cocaine Bear’ isn’t all the internet made it out to be

Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor

If you want the definition of a new-age cult film, look no further than Elizabeth Banks’ “Cocaine Bear,” which hit theaters Friday.

Loosely based on the true story of a black bear that ingested a kilogram of cocaine in 1985, the film counterpart is a dark comedy that can make you chuckle, despite all the dead bodies. Although it has good moments, it certainly did not live up to the social media praise from the last year and change.

Andrew C. Thornton, a narcotics officer-turned-drug smuggler, became infamous in the 1980s for falling to his death after dropping 40 bags of cocaine out of his airplane above Knoxville, Tennessee. With real news broadcasts shown on the movie screen, it helps paint the background for the dark comedy.

A collection of police officers, tourists, tour guides and criminals all spawned to the Georgia wilderness to (inadvertently or not) come face-to-face with the bear. With elements of the real-world present in the film, there are also drastic elements that are different.

For starters, the real-life bear died quickly from an overdose and was later stuffed in Kentucky. In this film, the bear certainly had a lot more creative liberties and the dynamic duo for online popularity – drugs and crazy, wild animals – helped blast this movie into stardom.

You’re thrown into the action immediately. A couple is hiking in the woods before they see a bear scratching a tree. Before you even have time to comprehend what is going on, a girl is mauled to death.

There are some familiar faces throughout, with Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Syd White (Ray Liotta) playing key roles in trying to find the rest of the cocaine. Although Liotta’s role is limited, the late legendary actor had some great moments in what was posthumously released and dedicated in his honor.

A significant portion of the beginning focuses on the different groups of characters, but the film snaps into the main plot almost instantly. Two kids skip school to explore in the local woods, only to see a bear, high as possibly can be on cocaine.

Mix in a few – OK a lot – of witty and ill-timed jokes and it’s a perfect dark comedy. However, as a thematic plot, it is almost the same for the final stretch. The bear goes and attacks some people and then retreats back to the woods. Wash, rinse and repeat. It gets repetitive, but it works in a way that you never expect when or where the coked-up animal is going to strike.

The film is grotesque and really disgusting at times. There are more ripped-apart limbs scenes than I expected. But the characters were unrealistically calm throughout. Take for instance when the park ranger accidentally shoots a teen, goes “I didn’t mean to” and strolls away unbothered.

While gory overall, the witty commentary by the cast seems to downplay all the deaths that take place. When a medic gets his arm snapped in half, his comedic yelling makes the viewers feel like he wasn’t even hurt in the first place. It is a weird dynamic and kind of off-putting.

Lost in the overarching plot is how well the bear was animated into looking like a real animal that ate a Schedule II drug. Because of the humor elements, the movie does a good job of contrasting the brutality of the bear attacks with the seemingly innocent butterflies that fly around the forest.

If you like bears, drugs or just a 90-minute runtime that can make you chuckle more than you would expect, “Cocaine Bear” is the movie for you. If you are looking for a cinematic masterpiece that is going to make you question your viewing experience, this is the farthest thing from it. To me, it felt like the movie was completed after the trailer went viral and not the other way around.

The trailer, which gained immense hype online, made the film appear as a slow burn with a coked-out bear killing dozens and while yes, that was very evident, it seemed to be missing something. Whether it was the uninteresting family storyline or the poorly-placed sappy scenes, it felt like the overall plot was rushed in order to push out the movie into theaters.

Since being announced in 2021, the hype surrounding the film has been immense. It’s safe to say that if you were waiting for it, then it was sort of worth the wait.