Cocaine Bear is a 2023 American comedy horror film directed by Elizabeth Banks and loosely inspired by the true story of the “Cocaine Bear“, an American black bear that ingested nearly 75 lbs. (34 kg) of lost cocaine. The movie differs from reality in that there was no evidence of the real bear having ever killed anyone while the movie bear goes on a killing spree worthy of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The movie begins in 1985, drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II drops a shipment of cocaine from his plane. He attempts to parachute out with a drug-filled duffel bag, but knocks himself unconscious on the doorframe, causing him to fall to his death. His body lands in Knoxville, Tennessee where he is identified by Bob, (Isiah Whitlock Jr., of The Wire fame perfectly deadpan as ever but without the Sheeeeeeeeat) a local detective. He concludes that the cocaine is likely from a drug kingpin Syd White, and the rest of it is missing. Meanwhile, in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, an American black bear eats some of the cocaine, becoming highly aggressive and attacking two hikers, Elsa and Olaf, killing Elsa.

Meanwhile, a young girl called Dee Dee lives with her mother, Sari who is a nurse (lame names if I ever heard lamer). Dee Dee skips school with her best friend Henry in order to paint a picture of the falls in the forest. On the trail to the falls, the pair finds a lost brick of cocaine, and ingest some before they are attacked by the bear. Sari ventures into the forest to search for the kids with park ranger Liz and Peter, a wildlife activist. The three find Henry clinging to a tree, hiding from the bear. The bear attacks, sending Peter stumbling through a pile of cocaine and slashing Liz in the process. Attracted to a cocaine-coated Peter, the bear kills him, ignoring Henry. Sari and Henry flee deeper into the forest, and Liz sends for help.

The druglord Syd sends his fixer Daveed to recover the remaining cocaine. Daveed travels to Georgia with Eddie, Syd’s son, who has grown depressed following the death of his wife and has abandoned his own son with Syd. They arrive in Georgia, and so does Bob. At the forest station, Daveed gets into a fight with the delinquent gang, who cause trouble in the forest and beats the shit out of them. One of the members, Stache, takes Daveed and Eddie to recover some of the cocaine he stashed in a gazebo.

Liz arrives back at the station, pursued by the bear. Liz accidentally kills Ponytail, one of the teenage delinquents, before the bear slaughters Vest, the other one. Paramedics Beth and Tom arrive and collect Liz after a brief skirmish with the bear. They leave with Liz in an ambulance, but the bear pursues and jumps into the vehicle. In the ensuing chaos, Tom is killed by the bear, while Liz falls out of the ambulance and is crushed on the road. Beth loses control of the ambulance and crashes into a tree, causing her to fly through the windshield to her death. (A truly epic and hilarious sequence of events)

Sari and Henry meanwhile discover that Dee Dee left them a trail of paint, which they use to track her. Daveed and Eddie are taken to the gazebo, but find Bob there with the stashed duffel of cocaine. The bear appears but Bob distracts it with the bag of coke. Bob is suddenly shot fatally by Syd, who reveals that he is under pressure by his superiors to retrieve the cocaine. Sari and Henry find a mourning Olaf, who leads them to Dee Dee’s hiding place: the bear’s cave containing its two cubs, revealing that the bear is a mother. Olaf leaves and is killed by the bear. Syd, Eddie, and Daveed find the cave, which leads out to a ledge behind the falls.

The bear returns to the cave to defend her cubs. Sari, Henry, and Dee Dee jump into the water below to safety, followed by Eddie and Daveed – who have chosen to quit the drug business together, and they all survive. However, Syd refuses to leave the bag of cocaine found in the cave. He shoots and wounds the bear but is unsuccessful in killing it and is disemboweled by the bear and her cubs. Later, Stache hitchhikes to New York with a duffel bag of cocaine, while Eddie, accompanied by Daveed, reunites with his son.

The movie doesn’t really develop its characters. Even the bear comes off like a stereotype of a drug addict. It’s primarily a B-movie but it has no illusions about what it is. It is a silly movie but its entertaining. It has no aspirations for awards or for brilliant critical reviews – it is basically Sharknado with a bear. The movie manages to combine a realistic CGI bear, plenty of gore and chaos. The intersecting stories are engaging, with the ensemble cast catching the audience’s attention and maintaining a narrative thread throughout the film. Larger parts like Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), Dentwood (Ray Liotta), and Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) prove just as entertaining as more minor characters, like Scott Seiss’ EMT, who sweep in and out of the narrative quickly.

It is not “laugh out loud” funny but it has the humor imbedded within it. Cocaine Bear manages to be appealing thanks to its wacky, gore-ridden, escapism venture. Yet, the admirable performances and CGI elements cannot redeem the poor screenplay and minimal creativity taken with the plot and dialogue. A major warning sign is the lack of imagination in the title of the movie itself. Much of the joy of “Cocaine Bear” comes from the look of the bear itself, which is surprisingly high-tech for a cheesy, silly movie. The movie makers and the CGI studio have definitely amped up the movements and anthropomorphized the animal to a knowing extreme, but they achieve enough realism to make the bear’s attacks scary. You’ll laugh and squeal throughout, but you’ll also scream and squirm in disgust. The violence is often so graphic and so gory that those weak stomachs might even throw up their breakfast. Some of the gnarliest moments however, come not from the bear herself, but rather from all of the people being stupid and finding ways to get injured.

It is comparable to the 2006 Snakes on a Plane in its absurdity and animal mayhem but without Samuel Jackson providing frequent doses of “Motherf*****” every 5 minutes. Both movies do exactly what their titles suggest, without any desire to be more substantial or meaningful. Though the suspense that carries the film for the first two-thirds of its short running time dips as it nears its conclusion, “Cocaine Bear” still emerges as a hell of an adventure.


Cocaine Bear is fun and stupid and entertains in a way that only silly movies do. Go check it out.

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