Writing film reviews can be a struggle. Sometimes, a movie comes along that defies all efforts to craft a coherent opinion. The emotional drama and the Oscar-bait pictures lend themselves to searing examinations. Occasionally, though, a movie is such a purely enjoyable experience that you can’t help but love it. This is Cocaine Bear. Know your expectations and embrace the weirdness. 

Cocaine Bear follows the zany action when a plane crashes in a National Park. As the title implies, the plane belongs to drug dealers (a brilliant cameo by Matthew Rhys) and is packed to the gills with cocaine. What happens when a bear living on “Blood Mountain” gets its paws on all the cocaine it can handle? Bloody hijinks. Enough said. Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Christian Convery, Isiah Whitlock Jr and Brooklyn Prince co-star in the movie. Elizabeth Banks directs Cocaine Bear from a script by Jimmy Warden. 

What does one expect when walking into a film called Cocaine Bear? There are films, there are movies and there are works of pure, unadulterated, pulpy delightfulness. 

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The year is young yet, but I’d go as far as to say this horror comedy gave me my most fun theatrical experience in 2023.  

Elizabeth Banks brings a movie to the screen which taps into a strange middle point capturing not only late-20th-century nostalgia but the over-the-top fun of the 1970s animal horror genre. While it certainly isn’t a requirement, those who gel with movies like Ants!, Grizzly and Piranha should love Cocaine Bear. 

Ray Liotta, Ayoola Smart, Alden Ehrenreich and O'Shea Jackson Jr., creep through the woods in Cocaine Bear.

At the same time, Banks revels in a comfortable 1980s nostalgia. For this elder millennial, the music, the wardrobe and the vibe felt like home. It’s comfortable and easy, like a movie we’d watch in elementary school … with more cocaine and blood. 

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Ultimately, despite a pretty stacked cast, the bear is the undisputed star of this movie. The combination of the effects work, the animation, and the motion capture brings the animal to life in all its zany glory. 

This is certainly seen in the outrageous bloody horror, but it’s equally entertaining when they stop to enjoy the humor. In these moments, the bear might be a little high, but she’s being a bear. When she scratches her back against a tree or sits cross-legged in front of the ranger station, it results in moments that had my packed theater belly-laughing. 

Meanwhile, Banks brings together a cast who are ready and willing to lean into the silliness. For the second time since Sundance, Alden Ehrenreich reminds us he’s a joy every time he’s onscreen. 

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At the same time, Keri Russell is the perfect mama bear (pun intended) to hold the movie together. Isiah Whitlock Jr. and his complicated relationship with his newly adopted rescue puppy do the heart good. 

The film’s biggest struggle is ultimately common in these “monster” movies. In the grand scheme of things, while these characters are entertaining, they aren’t entirely developed enough to sustain the action on their own. We don’t watch movies like Cocaine Bear for the humans. 

This is seen most notably at the very end of act two. Sari (Russell), Dee Dee (Prince), and Henry (Covery) make a mad dash to escape the bear and ultimately move toward the final set piece. The sequence is probably the longest period the film has where the bear doesn’t appear, and it is evident in the pacing. It slows down a bit. However, coming in at a breezy hour and a half, the movie is far from a slog. 

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While Cocaine Bear is firmly rooted at the intersection between horror and comedy, it can best be classified as a comedy with some horrific elements. Banks, as well as producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, are most at home in comedy. 

Banks jumps into the horror and most certainly enjoys crafting the scares. There are plenty of jump-scares sprinkled throughout the movie. Those who (like me!) tend to be a bit jumpy will undoubtedly find themselves caught up in the tense moments. 

At the same time, though, the film explores most of the horror through gore. In fact, the creative team seems to be having a blast working with often copious amounts of blood. At one point, a scene features a virtual torrent of blood. At another point, a fake limb flies out from the bushes in an almost comedic fashion. 

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The movie’s gleeful use of “body horror” is deeply reminiscent of the independent horror of the late 1960s and 1970s as filmmakers realized they could show more blood and with their increased freedom, they went a little nuts. The maestros of the genre, like Roger Corman, William Castle and Herschell Gordon Lewis, had they more money and better technology, each might have joyfully tackled this movie. This is a long way in saying Cocaine Bear is not for the squeamish. This is a love letter to the golden age of exploitation horror. 

All in all, Cocaine Bear is one of those films that can sometimes baffle those who write film reviews. It’s hard to come at this movie with much more other than to say Cocaine Bear is a blast. This horror comedy is big and brash, with the perfect blend of genres to ensure a fun theatrical experience. Check it out. You won’t regret it. 

Cocaine Bear opens in theaters around the country on February 24, 2023. 

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This review was originally published on 2/24/23.

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Kimberly Pierce
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