Based very loosely on true events that occurred in 1985, the Elizabeth Banks-directed Cocaine Bear is everything you want an all-star black comedy to be. It’s got drugged-out children in danger, honeymooning foreigners, idiot teenagers, bumbling drug dealers, a horned-up Park Ranger, an FBI agent looking to save the day, and, of course, a bear high on cocaine. Oh, and Ray Liotta in his final appearance on the big screen.
Written by Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter), this mad-cap horror/comedy/thriller doesn’t skimp on the jump scares and the over-the-top gore, and it is honestly consistently funny. Banks expertly navigates over a dozen characters, played mainly by comedy veterans who are clearly game for this one-of-a-kind story.
So what is the story? Basically, drug smuggler Andrew Thornton II (Matthew Rhys) is forced to dump 40 bags of cocaine from a Cessna that is on autopilot. An unfortunate (and hilarious) accident occurs, and Thornton ends up flying out of the airplane to his death.
Enter Agent Bob (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), who is determined to find the smugglers and the cocaine – as long as he can find someone to watch his foofy dog.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, single mother Sari (Kerri Russell) discovers her rebellious daughter Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) has skipped school with her best friend Henry (Christian Convery) to go “paint the waterfalls.” Of course, she immediately goes to find her.
Park Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) is all gussied up to impress her crush Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), while three delinquent teens wander the forest looking for trouble.
They find that trouble in the form of Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), who are sent by their drug dealer dad Syd (Ray Liotta), to get the dumped cocaine back.
All of these characters and more converge in the Georgia woods just as a black bear is beginning to wreak havoc after ingesting a crap-ton of the ditched cocaine. Freaked out, hungry, high, and agitated, this “Cocaine Bear” will stop at nothing to eat her way through the forest to get her next fix.
Banks keeps the comedy and action at full throttle throughout the hour and 35-minute running time. There are laughs, thrills, over-the-top moments, and action sequences that will stress you out as much as cause you to double over laughing. She has a terrific eye for framing, allowing for both scary and comedic surprises, and she gets really fun performances from her actors. After her underrated Charlie’s Angels reboot and now this, I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does next.
As for the cast, everyone is fantastic, clearly in on the joke, but playing it so straight that the humor lands even harder. Standouts include Convery as Dee Dee’s middle-school friend who gets separated from her and ends up traveling with her mom while on coke. Whitlock Jr.’s agent is a straight-man hoot, and Solo’s Ehrenreich impresses with comedic timing I didn’t realize he had!
While the film peters out a little toward the end, and the finale could have been grander, Cocaine Bear will have you roaring with laughter and (weirdly) cheering for the bear. It’s a ton of fun and feels like a cult classic that will be a staple at rooftop screenings for years to come.