Based on a true story that happened in the 80s (of course!) “Cocaine Bear” is about a drug dealer who tossed out $14 million worth of the drug over the Georgia state park only to have a large black bear tear into the bricks of blow: 40 of them to be exact. He overdosed, was stuffed, and became part of Waylon Jennings’s taxidermy collection. In the film directed by Elizabeth Banks, the bear lives and goes on a ferocious rampage dismembering all who get in his way. It’s funny, gory, and features the late Ray Liotta doing what he does best, chewing up the scenery while Pablo Escobear chews up his victims.

As the Universal logo appears on the screen, Jefferson Starship’s “Jane” gets the party rolling, a nice ode to “Wet Hot American Summer” the comedy and Netflix prequel starring actor-turned-director Elizabeth Banks. The soundtrack features great 80s tracks including Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, Scandal feat. Patty Smyth’s ‘The Warrior’, Jeffrey Osborne’s ‘On the Wings of Love’, Berlin’s ‘No More Words’, and a Pusha T remix of the Melle Mel classic ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’. Mark Mothersbaugh’s electronic score featuring swirling synthesizers, pairs nicely with the soundtrack and the film’s timeline.

The star-studded cast features a reunion of Kerri Russell, her husband Matthew Rhys In a cameo), and Margo Martindale, who starred together in the television series “The Americans.” Russell plays a single mom and nurse named Sari who goes into the woods in search of her daughter, 12-year-old Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince from “The Florida Project”), and her friend Henry (Christian Convery), both skipped school so Dee Dee can paint a waterfall on Blood Mountain.

Martindale plays bumbling Ranger Liz who is smitten with activist Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), the two accompany Sari up the mountain to search for her kids. Meanwhile, a trio of tourist-robbing punks calling themselves the Duchamps (a grade below The Nihilists in “The Big Lebowski”) enter the story when they tangle with Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) a sensitive henchman working for drug kingpin Syd White (Ray Liotta in his final role), who is on a mission to recover the cocaine with Syd’s grieving and even more-sensitive son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) tagging along because his father wants to get him back in the game.

Daveed forces one of the Duchamps, Stache (Aaron Holliday) to lead him to the missing coke after discovering they stashed a bag in a gazebo. Meanwhile, a veteran detective named Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) arrives at the park in search of Syd who he feels is out searching for the coke. All of them are targets for the 500-pound apex predator who can’t get enough of the white powder.

The dark comedy loses some momentum halfway through as the laughs-blood-gore formula becomes repetitive but picks up steam in the finale as Syd and his henchman get trapped with Sari and the kids on Blood Mountain along with mama bear’s cocaine cubs. The CGI predator created by Peter Jackson’s special effects company Weta looks incredibly real which strengthens the horror in the film. Shout out to “Planet of the Apes” stunt performer Allan Henry who filled in for the CGI bear during filming. Outfitted with a special bear helmet, he worked opposite the actors, doing all the stunts, giving them someone to feed off to help create the illusion of fear.

Be prepared for the bloody violence and gore in “Cocaine Bear” as Banks goes all in. It’s a comedy but it’s also a horror film. As a fan of George A. Romero and Sam Raimi, not to mention legendary makeup artist Tom Savini, I enjoyed the scenes of severed limbs flying through the air, and a tribute to the mall scene in 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” but those not accustomed to such horror may find themselves fleeing the auditorium. There have been several reports of people walking out during the promo screenings, disturbed by the violence.

In 1990’s “Goodfellas,” the downfall of Ray Liotta’s most memorable character Henry Hill was cocaine. Facing the same trajectory in “Cocaine Bear” it’s ironic that his performance as Syd White would become the actor’s curtain call after passing away last year. If anything, see the film for Liotta, psychosis turned down a notch, who is in fine form.

Will there be a sequel? Stay for the two end credits scenes and find out. My hope is that “Cocaine Bear” will lead to a slew of follow-up films featuring Mushrooms Moose, PCP Pig, Angel Dust Duck, Bath Salts Bats, Peyote Coyote, Oxy Ocelot, and Crystal Meth Cougar.

(3 stars)

Now showing in theaters

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, by following our guidelines.

Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.