‘Cocaine Bear’ is High on Absurdity

Written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Banks, “Cocaine Bear” adapts the true story of a bear ingesting millions of dollars in cocaine, dropped from a plane by smuggler Andrew Thornton. 

Equal parts horror and comedy, “Cocaine Bear” rarely finds balance — but embraces its outlandish premise.

Written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Banks, “Cocaine Bear” adapts the true story of a bear ingesting millions of dollars in cocaine, dropped from a plane by smuggler Andrew Thornton. 

In 1985, attempting to flee federal tracking, Thornton dropped 880 pounds of the powder while flying. After abandoning the plane, Thorton was found dead from parachuting in Knoxville, Tennessee. Months later, a black bear in Georgia’s Chattahoochee Forest was found dead from an overdose on Thorton’s supply. 

“Cocaine Bear” takes a fairly liberal approach in the story’s adaptation. Instead of dying from an overdose, the bear goes on a rampage, mauling anyone in sight and snorting as much cocaine as it can find.

Revolving around the rampant bear is a web of comedic characters. The variety of such storylines vary between the comedy and horror, but the sheer volume of plot distracts from the bear itself.

Two smugglers try to reclaim the dropped cocaine, while running into a trio of vandals who frequent the park. A detective tries to find the leader of the smugglers while dealing with the new dog he just bought. Two kids go wandering into the forest to paint rocks, with one of their mothers chasing after them.

While many of the characters feel one-note, standouts include smuggler Eddie Dentwood (Alden Ehrenreich) and his partner Howard (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) on the search for Thornton’s supply. Eddie’s journey of self-discovery as he moves past the loss of his wife paired with Howard’s blunt annoyance brings out some of the best laughs in the film.

Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery), the two runaways, bring a youthful charm that satirizes the film’s adult themes.

Finally, Eddie’s dad and drug kingpin Syd Dentwood — played by the late Ray Liotta (“Goodfellas,” “Narc”) — brings a volatile villain which rivals the bear by the end.

The myriad of characters add to the bear’s gorey victims, but also makes the story feel bloated in side-narratives. The film’s excitement intensifies when the bear is on screen — yet, these appearances are sparse.

Despite being titled “Cocaine Bear,” the actual bear is more of a background character to less interesting stories. It leaves one to wonder if the premise wasn’t dense enough for a full script, resulting in tacked-on narratives. 

As fun as the bear is, even the humor isn’t executed perfectly. The visual effects are often lacking, creating disconnection between the animal and the actors in real settings. Whether intentional or not, the absurdity of the visuals add to the humor as often as it cheapens the movie.

The biggest enemy to “Cocaine Bear” is its editing. Multiple shots jump so irregularly it makes the film feel broken, sacrificing its continuity. The bear occasionally vanishines where it should obviously be, and the effects of cocaine are never shown for the two runaways — who consume the substance on a dare. 

This isn’t to say all the directing falls flat. Banks’ (“Pitch Perfect 2,” “Charlie’s Angels”) direction of the bear letting loose is often just as funny as it is horrific.

One scene in a ranger’s cabin is surprisingly tense with how it handles the bear’s animalistic stalking. Even on the comedic side, Banks pulls off a variety of visual gags which delve into the morbidly humorous. 

It’s these combined moments of levity and tension that make “Cocaine Bear” compelling. None of it is perfect, and it rarely all meshes, but there’s something so charming about a bear high on cocaine which pulls eyes to the screen.

In spite of its faulty story, effects and characters, “Cocaine Bear” is exactly what it sounds like — uproariously dumb fun.

“Cocaine Bear” is in theaters now.

featured image courtesy of Universal Studios

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