Grin and Bear It – Cocaine Bear (’23)

I’m still working on the 2022 stuff and I’ll get back, but I had to take a moment to squeeze in what wound up being one of my most anticipated movies of the young new year. Cocaine Bear is exactly what I hoped for and more, especially when it hits the peak of its drug-fueled gonzo violence! It’s probably the best movie about a bear and one of the best movies about cocaine. #CocaineBearArmy Rise Up!

Inspired by a true story from the 80s, a drug smuggling run goes awry and a giant shipment of cocaine is jettisoned over a forest in Georgia. Well, there are some people that want to find that cocaine and they cross paths with a bunch of colorful characters and…of course…a big ass black bear high as balls on coke!

Naturally, director Elizabeth Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden took some creative liberties with this idea, but I’m not going to see a movie called “Cocaine Bear” for a history lesson. That’s actually the last thing I want from this kind of movie, so I am glad that they just used the idea as a jumping-off point to form a gonzo Rated-R comedy thriller. 

Elizabeth Banks (Photo: Variety)

It was really sad when I read that Elizabeth Banks feared for her career with this movie. However, fear is also a pretty strong motivator and with her back against the wall she took some big swings. Going out on your shield is one of those things that is endearing in sports because fans want to see that you care enough to try and it’s a fitting analogy here because even though Cocaine Bear isn’t going to be nominated for a bunch of awards (if any) it showcases Banks’ talent as a filmmaker and her willingness to take chances as a creative. That’s the kind of stuff I want to see from the directors that I am going to spend my time and money on. So, hopefully, this will give her some more confidence to take chances on new ideas in the future. 

I had no clue what to expect from the story here besides a bear rampaging and probably would have been entertained with just a B-movie horror flick in the vein. However, Warden wrote some wonderful and hilarious characters but also wove in a contrast in parenting dynamics, without feeling over-important or preachy about it. It’s there and it matters to the characters and the story, but he isn’t cramming it down our throats. He knows the film they are making and just gave us some vibrant people and adept situational humor to fill in the gaps. I respect and appreciate that.

It was great to see Ray Liotta and with a character like this! RIP.

Founding #CocaineBearArmy was never something I set out to do but there was a really snobbish response to this film, well before it came out. A really annoying sect of the film community on social media decided to lambast this movie for being unoriginal, which is pretty damn hilarious when you consider it’s not a franchise film, not a sequel, not a remake, not a use of existing intellectual property, and based (loosely) on a real story. And trying to counter that by saying they manipulated the events only stands as more evidence of the movie’s originality. So, when that whole “we’ve run out of ideas” strawman argument collapsed under the weight of its own hypocrisy the commentary predictably shifted toward attacking the film for just being “dumb” because you’ve gotta keep moving the goalposts. 

Look, this movie isn’t pretending to be anything that it isn’t. If you are on that wavelength then it’s a blast, and look no further than how much fun the cast is having. It’s a damn good cast top to bottom as well.

(Photo: Hollywood Reporter)

Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Kristofer Hivju, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Aaron Holiday, and of course the late Ray Liotta in his final role. They are all on board with what kind of movie they are making and hit their respective notes with the kind of confidence that comes from a writer and director with a cohesive vision. We also get to see two incredibly talented young actors getting to take the kid gloves off with Brooklynn Prince, who I have watched for years on Home Before Dark, and Christian Convery, who broke onto the scene with Sweet Tooth, absolutely killin’ it. 

Brooklynn Prince (left) and Christian Convery (right)

I’m not going to be overindulgent in the review but this was a lot of fun and Mark Motherbaugh provides some great music to let us know. This movie isn’t going to be for everyone and that’s fine. It earns its R rating the brutal old-fashioned way and has a blast doing so. If the thought of this movie offends the pretentious stick crammed up your butt then it’s probably not for you but I’m always going to rally for films that don’t placate.

Recommendation: Go for the obvious, stay for the characters, the dark humor, and some brutal fun.

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