On A Rampage | “Cocaine Bear” (2023) Movie Review

B-movies are hard to come by these days. Sure, there is no shortage of low-budget horror films the like Blumhouse produces, but not many films are willing to tout a ridiculous premise that it intends to fully exploit for our entertainment, at least not among wide-release movie theater films. Streaming, boosted by a global pandemic that shuttered theaters, has taken a large market share of new media, one that it might maintain for a while.

“Cocaine Bear” is one of those rare films that have made it through to the silver screen. Directed by Elizbeth Banks, it’s loosely based off a true story in which drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II (Matthew Rhys) dumped a ton of cocaine from a plane over a stretch of woodland in Kentucky, before jumping himself. Thornton’s parachute, however, never opened and he died. His lost cocaine was then ingested by a black bear, which died of an overdose in real life, but goes on a murderous rampage in this movie.

This film has a large cast of characters. To start, we have two hikers, Elsa (Hannah Hoekstra) and Olaf (Kristofer Hivju), who are the bear’s first victims. We then have two middle schoolers — Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery) — who skip school to go to Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, where they find some of Thornton’s cocaine as well as the bear. Their disappearance prompts Dee Dee’s mom, Sari (Keri Russell), to go looking for them and she soon runs into Liz (Margo Martindale), the park’s ranger, and Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), a wildlife expert Liz pines after. Liz also serves as a mentor to a trio of delinquent teenaged boys who are jumping and stabbing hikers behind her back.

Syd (Ray Liotta) a drug dealer sends his son, Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and underling, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) into the forest to retrieve the cocaine. Eddie has a tenuous relationship with his father, as he stopped getting involved in the “family business” when he met his partner, who is recently deceased. Still, he wants nothing to do with the drug business. Daveed is ambushed by the delinquent gang when they arrive, but he fights them all off. They find a brick of cocaine on them and have more stashed away in a gazebo further into the park. Daveed and Eddie take one of the kids, Stache (Aaron Holliday), and force him to lead them there.

Our last group of characters is comprised of a detective named Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who is tracking Eddie and Daveed and has a running gag in which he doesn’t get along with his new dog, which he leaves with his coworker, Reba (Ayoola Smart), who honestly has nothing to do in this film and could have been cut entirely.

As a whole, this film is a mess. Tonally, it is all over the place, not knowing when to have fun, when to build tension or when to play up its ridiculous premise. I was expecting this film to have excessive carnage, but there was surprisingly little — and half of it happens just off camera, with most of the rest happening in very erratic horror scenes where you can’t tell what’s going on. Worse yet, the bear never feels real in any sense — it’s a CGI bear that dances around the screen like a video game character.

This film could’ve benefitted from its cast being cut in half. All of them are one-dimensional and only a handful go through any sort of growth. The film is also surprisingly reserved as to who it kills off and who survives — at least eight characters live through the bear’s attacks, many whom the film would have been better if it killed them off. In my opinion, the film’s cast also should have been no more than eight, as the large cast is the primary reason why the movie has to split its focus.

Perhaps the greatest sin this film commits is that it’s boring. I’m not going to remember this film in a month outside of its title. It’s good for a mindless viewing and has some elements I liked — such as when Eddie and Stache bond out of nowhere — but the film doesn’t add up to a coherent, satisfying whole.

“Cocaine Bear” gets a 6/10

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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