Cocaine Bear review: "Not as snort-out-loud funny as you'd hope"

Keri Russell as Sari in Cocaine Bear
(Image: © Universal Pictures)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

There are highs, but a bear with an appetite for cocaine isn’t as snort-out-loud funny, or as thrilling, as you’d hope.

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"The bear, it fucking did cocaine!" yelps one wide-eyed character in Elizabeth Banks’ does-what-it-says-on-the-tin thriller – based, sort of, on a true story. "Apex predator, high on cocaine, out of its mind," says another, mustering Oscar-worthy levels of gravitas given this is 2023’s answer to Snakes on a Plane. But can any movie deliver on such dialogue – and that title?

No, of course not. And despite its 95-minute running time, Banks’ wild adventure feels drawn out. Never sure if it wants to conjure real suspense and scares (it fails) or embrace riotous comedy in a full-on bear hug, Cocaine Bear also suffers from moments of cartoonish CGI. There isn’t an alternative, of course – no one wants the filmmakers to use a real bear, especially one that’s off its tits – but the frequently impressive creation comes with glitches that kill the viewer’s buzz.

A 500lb American black bear rocketing up a tree to munch on a pesky human? It’s less authentic than writer Jimmy Warden’s take on real events; in truth, the bear that ingested a duffel bag of cocaine in 1985 didn’t kill anyone, and itself died from a brain haemorrhage and failure of the heart, kidneys and lungs.

Downer, eh? Better to go for a Coens-movie-on-coke approach and introduce a large cast of players/fodder that includes drug smugglers (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich and Ray Liotta in his final completed role), a cop (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a forest ranger (Margo Martindale), medics (Kahyun Kim, Scott Seiss) and a single mum (Keri Russell) looking for a pair of kids (Brooklynn Prince, Christian Convery). All meet the black bear with a white snout after it hoovers drugs tossed from a smuggler’s plane.

Highlights include our hirsute antihero doing the best coke sneeze since Woody Allen in Annie Hall; pausing its rampage to admire a butterfly; and chasing down an ambulance to leave a trail of dead bodies and spurting limbs. In these moments, the film is just what you want from a movie entitled Cocaine Bear. But they’re interrupted by musings on mum-power, greed and how it’s the quarrelling humans, not a coked-up bear, that’s the real danger.

Interesting stuff, but a comedown to viewers craving more of the titular beast’s antics. To quote the Depeche Mode song that’s amusingly employed over one scene, "Just can’t get enough".

Cocaine Bear is out in cinemas from February 24. For more upcoming films, check out our breakdown of 2023 movie release dates.

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Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.