Cocaine Bear was based on a true story.
That may seem hard to believe, but it is true – kind of. In September 1985, convicted drug smuggler Andrew Thornton died after a parachuting accident. The word is that he was traveling with 880 pounds of cocaine and threw a bunch out of the plane before parachuting out and falling to his death. He was found dead in a driveway with $15 million worth of cocaine on him. However, more cocaine was missing.
In December 1985, a 175-pound black bear died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug in Chattahoochee National Forest in Tennessee (via The New York Times).
That is what the movie is based on, but outside of the cocaine dropping into a forest and the smuggler dying, that is not what happens in this movie. The movie does open with that exact scene, including the parachuter being found in a driveway with the cocaine on his person. Then, the movie just goes off the rails in some of the best ways possible.
Cocaine Bear is something that could have been a massive video store favorite 40 years ago. Today, it arrived in theaters from director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect). The movie was sold as a zany thrill ride, and while it is nowhere near as funny as some might have hoped, it is a lot better than anyone ever could have expected.
After that opening with the lost cocaine, the movie switches to two hikers in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Tennessee. They are very much in love, but that doesn’t really matter because when a black bear notices them watching it, the bear charges them and kills the woman, leaving the man a devastated mess. As the movie mentions, a black bear won’t attack unless provoked, but this bear was seriously messed up. This bear was on cocaine.
There are two sets of characters the viewers are asked to get behind. The first is a pair of precocious kids named Dee Dee (The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Sweet Tooth’s Christian Convery), who decide to skip school and go “paint the waterfall” when Dee Dee’s mom Sari (Keri Russell) decides to cancel their upcoming trip to spend time with the new boyfriend.
The other group includes drug dealer Daveed (Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr) and Aiden Ehrenreich (Han Solo from Solo) as Eddie, the son of the local mafia boss Syd, played by the legendary Ray Liotta in his final role before his death. They are out to find the cocaine. There is also a cop from St. Louis named Bob (The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock Jr) looking for the cocaine and whoever might be trying to find it.
With all that said, all that matters in this movie is the black bear on cocaine killing anyone and everyone who gets in her way, as she tries to find more cocaine to fulfill her new habit. This includes a wildlife activist, a park ranger, some punk teens who like to attack people in the park, and hikers. There is also the wild scene with the ambulance that the trailer gives away.
The humor is there, but this is not a laugh-out-loud funny movie. However, it is a very gory movie with some truly disgusting scenes when the bear mutilates someone. This is not a complaint – it is a good thing. The humor is mostly low-key, based on things the kids say, the relationship between some of the characters, and the ludicrousness of the situation. There is also some heart, mostly thanks to Daveed and Eddie, who were great characters in a story that was mostly about the bear.
It seems like Universal Pictures has created its own niche of releasing off-the-wall, crazy movies, which markets them well toward people who just want to go to the theaters for a good time. Cocaine Bear follows the killer Santa Claus movie Violent Night and the killer doll movie M3gan. The studio also has the Nic Cage as Dracula movie Renfield coming in a couple of months.
If Universal just keeps making movies like this, it will make me very happy because we all need movies that make us smile, even if it is a coke-head bear and her cubs tearing the intestines out of a drug lord.