A star rating of 3 out of 5.

'Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ goes the old saying, and it’s advice that the makers of Cocaine Bear seem to have taken to their hearts.


You can see why the events that inspired it would be irresistible to the creators of a certain kind of cinema; in the mid-'80s a black bear was found to have devoured vast quantities of the drug in question after it was dumped into woodland from the plane of a smuggler. The potential was clearly huge.

Using this bizarre incident as his jumping-off point, the film’s screenwriter Jimmy Warden runs wild with it as a group of disparate characters converge on the territory of the coke-addled beast.

Actress-turned-director Elizabeth Banks is at the helm of this mostly entertaining, only mildly offensive adaptation, bringing enough deranged energy to her efforts and striking a careful balance between bad-taste comedy and commercial viability. It’s Banks’s third film calling the shots, following Pitch Perfect 2 and 2019’s Charlie’s Angels, and she’s assembled a great cast, who add value to the material at every turn.

Matthew Rhys appears fleetingly as the aforementioned smuggler, Andrew C Thornton II, who died during the incident when his parachute failed to open, something which, like much of the movie, is played for laughs. The filmmakers depart from reality almost instantly; the real bear was not known to have harmed anyone before its untimely death, and yet here it is reimagined as an insatiable foe.

Amongst the ensemble are Keri Russell as Sari, a nurse who traces her school-skipping, 12-year-old daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) down to Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, where the pumped-up predator awaits.

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Also en route to the woods are drug dealer Daveed, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr, who is trying to track down the missing cocaine on behalf of his menacing boss Syd (Ray Liotta), with the gangster’s grieving son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) reluctantly in tow.

Isiah Whitlock Jr is the cop on the case, Bob, while legendary character actress Margo Martindale has some spectacular indignities in store as Liz, the forest ranger distracted by her attraction to her colleague Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).

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The cast really do give it their all (in the midst of the mania, Jackson Jr’s more subtle comedic schtick is especially enjoyable), yet it’s hard not to feel for poor Ray Liotta in one of his final film roles. Playing the movie’s chief human antagonist, the late actor delivers his usual grizzled gravitas, before enduring his own inevitable, head-slapping humiliation.

And the bear herself (we find out her sex in a sublimely ridiculous scene) is a decent, computer-generated creation: popping up when the characters least expect it, and bringing exaggerated ferocity, wild-eyed confusion and a cartoonish presence to the table.

Cheerfully marrying its broad-brush eccentricity with monster movie and slasher traditions, Cocaine Bear’s woodland antics recall Friday the 13th and Lake Placid, while there’s a touch of Quentin Tarantino in the colourful, chatty criminals.

If it begins promisingly and benefits from an undoubtedly novel scenario (indeed, the title on its own should sell it to many), it ultimately feels like a one-joke idea, with the gags getting repetitive and the script running out of steam after a while. It might have benefited from further embracing its horror leanings; some moderately jumpy moments aside, it doesn’t really set out to scare you.

However, at just over 90 minutes, Cocaine Bear hardly outstays its welcome and the oddball touches, period soundtrack and love for splatter should help sustain the interest of those looking for some left-field laughs. And, as Liotta and co grapple gamely with their furry adversary, it shows the fun you can have when you combine a B-movie concept with A-grade talent.

Cocaine Bear is released in cinemas on Friday 24th February 2023. Wondering what to watch on TV? Visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide or visit our Film hub for more news and features.


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