Elizabeth Banks Goes All-In With Absurdity

Feb 25, 2023

Home Movie Reviews ‘Cocaine Bear’ Review: Elizabeth Banks Goes All-In With Absurdity, Violence, Humor, and Nose Candy

Starring Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, Margot Martindale, and of course, a cocaine bear, ‘Cocaine Bear’ is exactly what it sounds like.

Image via Universal Pictures

With a name like Cocaine Bear, you might think you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Well, guess what? You probably do. Cocaine Bear is an hour-and-a-half of a black bear on a rampage looking for cocaine, brutally murdering any people who get in its way. Director Elizabeth Banks’ film is about as insane as you’d hope it would be, a film that embraces the absurdity of this concept and goes all-in, and a perfect example of giving the audience exactly what they want. And while at its base, Cocaine Bear is just a ridiculous idea that hits all the checkboxes you’d want a film called Cocaine Bear to mark off, it’s also a reminder of wonderful days of mid-budget comedies, where studios would take a wild chance on something absolutely unhinged just to see if it might take off with audiences.

Cocaine Bear starts as this story of course has to start: with cocaine. Loosely based on real events, Cocaine Bear beings with Andrew C. Thorton II (Matthew Rhys), a drug smuggler who is throwing duffel bag after duffel bag full of cocaine out of a plane. After taking a sample for himself, Thorton hits his head, falls out of the plane, dies, and leaves several bags of cocaine scattered in unknown locations. Cut to the ground the next day, and some of the cocaine has fallen into a park in Chattahoochee, where it was found by a black bear, who then also finds a pair of hikers (Kristofer Hivju and Hannah Hoekstra) and proceeds to attack them in a drug-fueled rage.

Cocaine Bear soon becomes an ensemble piece of characters searching for the cocaine, or characters who just accidentally get caught in the middle of a bear and its newfound love for cocaine. Sari (Keri Russell) is a mom who gets caught on the aptly titled Blood Mountain while looking for her daughter (Brooklynn Prince), who has skipped school to go to a nearby waterfall with her friend Henry (Christian Convery). Syd Dentwood (Ray Liotta) is the drug dealer behind the failed drop, who sends his associate Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Syd’s own son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) to recover the missing cocaine. There’s also Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a cop who thinks he’s tracked down the drugs and the culprits and heads to the park to find both, and Liz (Margot Martindale), a park ranger who just wants to impress and flirt with her an inspector (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and get rid of a trio of troublesome kids causing problems in the park.

Image via Universal

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The screenplay by Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter: Killer Queen) wisely never spends too long with any one group, jumping from one to another before any of them grows stale. Each has its own fun dynamic, like Jackson Jr. and Ehrenreich, who are a perfectly mismatched duo, and Prince and Convery, whose childish ignorance over what cocaine actually is makes for some of the film’s funniest scenes. Warden sets up just enough story to keep us invested, but never enough to make this story beholden to it in a way that distracts from what we really want: a bear high off its ass on cocaine.

And it’s a good thing too, since the film doesn’t skimp on the casualties and extreme gore (cocaine is a hell of a drug). So much of Cocaine Bear relies on the inherent ridiculousness of this story, and Banks and Warden never shy away from that. Whenever you think the film can’t up the ante more, the film gets slightly and slightly crazier. Martindale especially seems to be having a ball at the insane things she has to do, and her story certainly centers around some of the more ludicrous actions of the titular cocaine bear. No matter your thoughts on Cocaine Bear, it’s worth it just to see the equally horrific and hilarious scene where the coked-out black bear chases after an ambulance with disgusting and unbelievable results.

Image via Universal 

In a strange way, Banks almost seems influenced by her time in the world of Wet Hot American Summer in this story, as we see a splintered cast of characters all centered around one location and the wild adventures they get on. Cocaine Bear even opens with Jefferson Airplane’s “Jane” blaring—the same way Wet Hot begins—and the sort of David Wain/Michael Showalter absurdism feels like it might have had an effect on Banks’ handling of this story. It’s a great direction to take this wild ride, and again, by having so many groups with different objectives and comedic tones to play off, what could’ve felt like little more than a comedy sketch warrants its feature-length runtime. Banks is no stranger to weird, over-the-top humor, and she proves that she can be just as over-the-top as the best of them here.

Simply put, Cocaine Bear is exactly what you want. It’s a film that knows that it’s ludicrous and relishes in the wildness of watching a cocaine-fueled bear go nuts on Blood Mountain. But it is also a reminder of how rare it is that we see films like this, studio comedies that take big swings and attempt to do something wild that might not do crazy amounts of money, but will find its intended audience—people who will actively go see a movie entitled Cocaine Bear.

Rating: B

Cocaine Bear is in theaters now.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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