Jack Cheney, Contributing Writer
When you think of goofy horror movies, you might think of things such as the “Scary Movie” franchise, or the insert-number-here of the “Friday the 13th” movies. Or maybe you have a refined taste, such as for the first 30 minutes of a Jordan Peele movie before it becomes either terrifying or weird. Maybe you enjoy the catalog of wonderful strangeness of A24 horror films, where the scares come at the end, but hit like a freight train. I do regret to inform you that “Cocaine Bear,” the newest film by director Elizabeth Banks, is not an elevated movie. It is not even refined in the slightest when it comes to the horror aspect. “Cocaine Bear” is a story about a bear that eats a Tony Montana’s worth of cocaine in the southern Appalachian woods and goes on a murderous rampage. Granted, one could say the horror comes from it being based on a true story, but even then, the basis is so loose that it would unravel with the quickest Google search. But that’s the point. “Cocaine Bear” revels in campiness and gory fun, not to mention one of the last prominent roles of the late great Ray Liotta.
Taking place in the fitting year of 1985, the film begins when a plane flown by real life drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton crashes in Chattahoochee National Park, in northern Georgia, while Thornton crashes himself in Knoxville, Tenn. While an investigation begins in the Appalachian city, a wandering black bear comes across the plane and ingests some of the cocaine, becoming highly aggressive and claiming two victims. That’s it. The premise and any sort of depth to the film is next to impossible, given that we now follow the rampage of a bear high out of its mind that kills anything it comes across. You could write “The Godfather” character arcs and motivations, and I would still be giggling at the thought of Smokey Bear addicted to cocaine. All jokes aside, the brilliance of the film is not in the premise, the characters, or the admittedly subtle nods to the Nancy Reagan tagline “just say no,” but rather, in the trust of the audience to buy into the absurd premise. “Cocaine Bear” is not Oscar bait.
It’s clear throughout the film that the actors all understand the assignment, and through their acting on screen (which is the perfect mix of both campy and purely serious), audiences can enjoy the silliness as the cast likely did during production. Ray Liotta, a member of the cast who died in May 2022, is one of the standout performances, as ruthless and delightfully unhinged drug kingpin, Syd. Digital effects for the bear as well are well done, if a little shaky during chase and kill scenes. But fear not, gore hounds. “Cocaine Bear” supplies us horror junkies with plenty of insane kills and like “Jaws” with sharks, will put the fear of bears in you.
“Cocaine Bear” is a ridiculous film, but it is ridiculous in a way that shows that it recognizes that ridiculous is fun, gory and drug-filled.