Chicago Sun-Times


Intoxicati­ng ‘Cocaine Bear’ goes hilariousl­y off the rails


This might sound crazy, but even when the titular bear in “Cocaine Bear” was tossing aside leg stumps like they were discarded chicken wings at a sports bar, I kinda felt bad for the bear. It’s not her fault a drug smuggler tossed duffel bags of cocaine into the woods and turned the bear into an instant addict with a voracious appetite for coke and for anyone standing between the bear and the coke. Just as the shark in “Jaws” doesn’t know it’s a shark, the bear in “Cocaine Bear” doesn’t know it’s a cocaine bear. She’s a victim of circumstan­ces.

All right, all right, so the bear is also a drooling, roaring, rampaging killing machine in Elizabeth Banks’ wildly entertaini­ng and darkly hilarious B-movie blood-fest, which proves to be more than just a fantastica­lly ridiculous title and a viral marketing campaign. This is a genuinely well-crafted horror gem with a winning cast, some nifty twists and a very good bear who betrays its CGI origins maybe 10% of the time but for the most part looks like an actual, cocaine-fueled black bear with lightning-quick reflexes, a big bite and an insatiable appetite for coke on the rocks. And in the trees. And on the cliffs.

Before we get into the grizzly, I mean grisly, details (after all, the Cocaine Bear is a black bear and not a grizzly bear!), let’s address that “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS” tagline. In December 1985, convicted drug smuggler Andrew Thornton jumped out of a plane and plunged to his death in Knoxville, Tennessee. Thornton had dumped some 40 containers of cocaine that landed in the Chattahooc­hee National Forest, and authoritie­s tracking down the bags discovered a bear that had overdosed on cocaine.

Other than a comedic interpreta­tion of the smuggler’s fatal jump and the bags of cocaine plummeting into the forest., “Cocaine Bear” is pure fiction. Director Banks and screenwrit­er (and Chicago native) Jimmy Warden nimbly juggle multiple storylines and myriad characters (perhaps a few characters too many) and keep things moving along in brisk fashion. The visual style is reminiscen­t of ’80s horror films, with the stellar cast throwing themselves into the material and eschewing subtle notes. (I’m not saying any of the performanc­es are campy, but some of the acting is camping near campy.)

You know “Cocaine Bear” is going all-in when we see a couple of school-skipping 13-year-olds, Brooklynn Prince’s Dee Dee and Christian Convery’s Henry, stumbling across a brick of cocaine in the woods and deciding they’ll try it, each spooning a heaping helpful like it’s ice cream. Oh boy. After Dee and Henry get separated while fleeing the Cocaine Bear, we pick up the stories of a number of other characters, including three local thugs who are complete dopes — the drug dealer Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and his friend, the troubled Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), who have been sent by Eddie’s drug kingpin father Syd (the late Ray Liotta) to retrieve the drugs — and the local park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), who has a thing for a wildlife expert (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) who claims to be an animal lover but seems hopelessly overmatche­d by the woods. Oh, and let’s not forget Keri Russell’s Sari, who is Dee Dee’s mom and quite the mama bear herself, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s Bob, a cop who has been trying to nail Syd and his gang for years and is following a tip that the drugs might be in these woods.

The deaths and grievous injuries are meted out in creatively gruesome fashion (at one point it’s as if we’re in a “Final Destinatio­n” movie), with fingers, legs and heads sometimes separated from their owners. Russell’s Sari is a force to be reckoned with, while Jackson and Ehrenreich carry on their own buddy movie in the midst of the carnage. Young Christian Convery is a hoot as Henry, and of course, it’s a bitterswee­t feeling to see the great Ray Liotta in his final role, in a movie that has even more cocaine than “Goodfellas.” Whether Liotta was starring in one of the greatest movies ever or having a good time going over the top in a blood-soaked drive-in type movie, it was our privilege to see him in action.

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 ?? UNIVERSAL PICTURES ?? Concerned mom Sari (Keri Russell) goes into the woods looking for her daughter and instead encounters the jacked-up beast of “Cocaine Bear.”
UNIVERSAL PICTURES Concerned mom Sari (Keri Russell) goes into the woods looking for her daughter and instead encounters the jacked-up beast of “Cocaine Bear.”

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