While I usually steer clear of making Oscar predictions because of all the studio politics and unpredictability, I will make an exception here.
Cocaine Bear will not be garnering Oscar nominations or statuettes.
That isn’t so horrible in itself since many noteworthy movies get passed over and ignored each year. The Oscars are very political. The best movies of the year don’t always win Best Picture of the Year. Recent history has proven that point.
No, Cocaine Bear isn’t really Oscar worthy. But it is a movie worth seeing if you’re in the mood for some whacky entertainment “based on actual events.”
In this case, the actual events were that a real-life drug smuggler and former law enforcement agent by the name of Andrew Thornton, died when he parachuted from a small plane in September of 1985 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was carrying a large amount of cocaine, his parachute didn’t deploy possibly due to the weight of the illegal substances he was carrying, and he subsequently crashed to his death in the backyard of a house.
Large amounts of cocaine had been tossed out of the plane before he exited, and some of that cocaine was reportedly ingested by a 175-pound black bear who died as a result.
Apparently that part of the bizarre story is true, as reported in the New York Times.
What isn’t true is that the bear snorted the cocaine and went on a bloody killing spree like the one depicted in the movie Cocaine Bear (2023). That was the fantasy/adventure/comedy element created by writer Jimmy Warden.
It’s the heart and soul of the movie directed by Elizabeth Banks, starring Keri Russell, and the late Ray Liotta (in his final film performance).
If you like outrageous dark comedy with a gory twist, Cocaine Bear is a movie for you.
The movie wastes no time establishing the premise and setting the plot in motion. Hikers are attacked, and before long, children playing hooky in the forest, a horny female game warden and her tree-hugging assistant as well as an assortment of criminals and at least one dog-loving cop find themselves in the path of this ravenous, coked-up bear from hell.
Cocaine Bear is a low-budget, scream fest kind of a movie with a limited cast that only includes a few high profile ringers to draw attention. The real star here is the bear who is rendered with reasonable authenticity using a number of affordable special effects techniques. This isn’t Jurassic Park.
What Cocaine Bear does offer is a spirited script with some likeable characters and enough of a story to get its hooks (claws?) in you for the duration of the film.
That, it does.
And, yes, there is some degree of gore that somehow manages to be funny. The detached arms and legs look like rubber limbs from the special effects department. Realistic enough to make the point. But not so realistic that find yourself using your popcorn bag as a barf bag.
Ray Liotta is, predictably, the bad guy in this movie. Cocaine Bear is dedicated to his memory. It is not his best performance. It’s just his last performance, capping a career that included some truly unforgettable films, including one of my favorites, Goodfellas (1990). He will be missed.
While all forms of creatures have graced the silver screen over the years—sharks, dinosaurs, snakes, alligators, you name it—the idea of a drug-crazed bear is something new, particularly when the story has some attachment to an actual event.
Cocaine Bear gets credit for that, as well as the telling of a crazy, revved-up, fictionalized tale of what might happen if one of nature’s scariest predators somehow got high.
Cocaine Bear is in theaters now.