“Cocaine Bear” barrels into theaters

The cocaine bear gets a hit of that good stuff. Photo courtesy of Universal Studios and Linda Holmes of NPR.

JACK WILLIAMS | STAFF REPORTER | jrwilliams@butler.edu

Contains slight spoilers. Proceed with caution.

What do you get when you cross a black bear with cocaine? The viewing experience of a lifetime. 

The thriller “Cocaine Bear” tore into theaters on Feb. 24 and earned $23.1 million in its opening weekend. The movie, produced by Universal Studios, garnered sustained pre-release media attention due to its wild trailer and director Elizabeth Banks’ delightfully bare-bones premise. It is loosely based on the true story of a Georgia black bear who, in 1985, ingested a fatal amount of cocaine that had been tossed out of a smuggler’s plane. “Cocaine Bear” is a campy gore-fest that delivers exactly what it promises: an hour-and-a-half long look at the bloody mess left behind by a bear on a bender.

The plot follows two main groups through Chattahoochee National Park as they grow ever nearer to the titular threat and her cubs. Bob, a laid-back cop played by Isiah Whitlock Jr., is pitted against the two henchmen of drug lord Syd, played by Ray Liotta, in a race to recover the millions in “white gold” scattered throughout the forest. Notably, Syd was Ray Liotta’s last completed role before his unprecedented death in 2022. What none of the characters know is that the bear has an insatiable appetite for cocaine—and they’re all covered in it.

The second group of characters comes into play when Sari, played by Keri Russell, discovers her daughter has been taken by the bear. Sari enlists a woefully inept ranger, played by Margo Martindale, and the ranger’s companion to help save her daughter before all hell breaks loose. The surviving characters eventually team up with Syd’s beleaguered henchmen. 

Mathias Vander Eide, a sophomore biochemistry major, is a big fan of Martindale’s performance.

“I first witnessed Martindale in ‘Bojack Horseman’, where she was a sadistic murderer,” Vander Eide said. “To see her shoot someone in the back of the head [in ‘Cocaine Bear’] was a very, very familiar tone for Margo, so that was great to see.

A rotating cast of oddballs are introduced throughout the movie, complete with ‘80s mustaches and aviators. However, their sole purpose is to serve as creative cannon fodder for the bear. The characters experience very little growth, but Banks ensures that no one overstays their welcome on screen. Each character is shown just long enough to keep the plot moving and the audience waiting for when the bear will strike.

The over-the-top action sequences lived up to the expectations of Natalie Link, a sophomore biochemistry major.

“My favorite moment was the ambulance scene, where the park ranger [is] shooting out of the back of it, and the bear makes its way in and flings her out,” Link said. “It was fantastic!”

The CGI bear looked shockingly good in action when compared to the inflatable costumes used in similarly themed movies like “Velocipastor” and “Llamageddon”. The higher production value of “Cocaine Bear” also allowed for the presence of a plot beyond pure gore. Banks paints the bear in a sympathetic manner by connecting her cubs with Sari’s children. At the end of the day, Sari and the bear are both trying to look out for their family.

Tori Satchwell, a sophomore English major, felt that the movie struck the right balance between plot and shock factor. 

“I liked that there was a plotline because [movies like] ‘Velocipastor’ aren’t going to get a theatrical release,” Satchwell said. “Seeing [‘Cocaine Bear’] in the theater with my friends was a really good experience.”

In a time of sprawling multiverses and with Oscars around the corner, it can be refreshing to kick back with friends and watch a movie just for the experience of it. There are no sequels to hypothesize about, and viewers can live in the moment, assured that the only advanced knowledge needed to understand the plot is the title.

Seamus Quinn, a sophomore theatre and journalism double major, appreciated being able to take a break from complex movie plots.

“Sometimes you want to go to a movie for pure escapism,” Quinn said. “Just turn your brain off and watch a bear on cocaine kill people.”

The movie itself recognizes this and pokes fun at more serious films by beginning with a stern series of quotes about bear safety. Moments later, it is revealed that Wikipedia was the source for these quotes. This self awareness reassures viewers “Cocaine Bear” will not overstep its premise.

“I feel like I don’t have enough movies I can watch and just laugh,” Link said. “[Movies where] everyone’s going to get the point and no one’s going to leave confused or with one of those ‘what’s gonna happen next?’ feelings. I started the movie laughing, and I ended it laughing, and that’s all I was hoping for.”


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