Legendary actor Ray Liotta had a career unmatched by many. Starring in iconic films such as “Goodfellas” (1990), “Marriage Story” (2019) and “Bee Movie” (2007), it simply feels right that his last role before he sadly passed away is Syd White, a drug kingpin in the movie “Cocaine Bear.”
“Cocaine Bear” is a film inspired by the real-life story of a black bear who ingested a duffel bag full of cocaine after it was dropped out of a plane carrying too heavy of a load by drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton II. Thornton then jumped out of the plane and died due to his parachute failing to open.
This is where the film’s similarities to actual events end. In the real world, the bear simply died. That wouldn’t make a very interesting movie, so director Elizabeth Banks decided to take a few creative liberties. “Cocaine Bear,” in short, is about a bear that becomes addicted to cocaine from the dropped duffel bag and goes on a murderous rampage, killing multiple people in various grisly ways.
“Cocaine Bear” falls under the horror comedy genre, one that is unexpectedly difficult to pull off well. It’s a challenge to maintain a proper balance of shock and comedy without boring the audience by failing to deliver on laughs or losing tension.
Thankfully, “Cocaine Bear” knows its place. It never takes itself too seriously. There’s a scene where the bear snorts a line of cocaine off a guy’s dismembered leg. Each character (and there’s a lot of them) has enough impact to affect the story in some way, but not enough to make you too sad when they inevitably succumb to the wrath of the cocaine bear.
For the most part, the cast plays off each other very well. An especially hilarious scene that comes to mind is when a group of teenagers and a park ranger complain to each other after sustaining injuries. However, while the park ranger was attacked by the bear, the teens got theirs from a scrap with Daveed, Syd White’s fixer, after they tried to rob him. Both groups think the other endured a run-in with the same person/bear, creating one of the funniest scenes in the film.
“Cocaine Bear” might be more than meets the eye. It has a surprising amount of subtle environmental undertones. Despite the bear being the main antagonist, the film makes it clear that if it wasn’t for humans dumping cocaine into the woods, none of the events would have happened and no one would have died.
Unfortunately, “Cocaine Bear” loses its high in the last third. The slight tonal shift doesn’t quite match up with the rest of the film. It also fails to reach the levels of hilarity it was able to pull off to great effect previously. In addition, some of the character’s decisions felt very annoying, far past the point of being funny.
For as gruesome as some of the deaths were (there’s a scene where the bear’s cubs eat a character’s small intestine while said character is still alive), I wish the film took it further. With a title such as “Cocaine Bear,” one would expect the film to reach ridiculous levels of mayhem, but it never quite gets there.
Even still, “Cocaine Bear” is undoubtedly worth a watch. If you hunger for mindless thrills, hilarious dialogue and gruesome deaths, look no further than this film.