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'80s-Inspired Movie Review: Is "Cocaine Bear" a Buzz, or Just Bearable?

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

By Luke Worle, Retro Injection contributing writer.

Cocaine Bear is an extravaganza of excess, a celluloid riptide that mirrors its intrinsically 1980s lifeblood.

The characters are multidimensional and are given plenty of screen-time breathing room to prove themselves a motley crew of the bizarre, hapless and heroic.

The premise is partially based on the real-life experience of narcotics cop gone rogue Andrew C. Thornton II and his fatal, ill-timed airplane jump while attempting to smuggle duffel bags chock full of the devil’s dandruff. But our adventure really revolves around an exaggeration of the subsequent events that saw a Tennessee black bear ingest an inconceivably large amount of the marooned packages.

Directed with visceral and subtle flair by Elizabeth Banks, “Cocaine Bear” twists and subverts the notion of the true-to-life events. A coked-up black bear will be anything but docile.

Main characters and walk-ons are mutilated in the most macabre of ways, in a willful exercise of uneasy black humor, as the coke-addled bear begins her long journey while flying high.

The premise alone brings to mind other cinematic expressions of the absurd. Remember Sharknado? Cocaine Bear seeks to be the event picture that's so hammy, surreal and sublimely ridiculous that an eventual cult following is almost assured.

However, Cocaine Bear falls a bit short of this mark when it seeks to be somewhat serious in the framework of its melodrama. Fusing pathos and partytime ultimately snuffs out the buzz, as it seeks to be both a dramatic parable of sorts and an over-the- top extravaganza. Cocaine Bear fails when it attempts to be both.

The other overt handicap of the film is its plodding pacing. It never seems to be on the mark as momentum gets unfortunately squandered in key scenes that deserved far more attention.

At the same time, some of the sequences are top notch, such as a botched ambulance rescue mission gone as bonkers as can be, with Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” the spritely soundtrack to a most-gruesome melee.

The performances are all stellar, and the film features a dedication to the late Ray Liotta.

The cinematography captures some breathtaking scenery, while our beastly star of the hour has relatively-convincing CGI framework.

The '80s references that dart in and out are all nice Easter eggs that further compliment the period-piece aspect of the film.

Ultimately, Cocaine Bear produces a somewhat satisfying buzz but not a breathtaking rush.

Hampered by its weaknesses, the film still manages to throw a ballroom blitz. It’s possible that Cocaine Bear might one day be a cult favorite. In the meantime however, it gets high on its own supply and runs out of steam halfway through its feels-longer running time.

Still, a recommendation to witness the three-ring circus of cinematic absurdity that is Cocaine Bear is in order.

Rating: C+


Luke Worle is a world-travelled musician, currently under contract with Sony. Listen to his work here. Thanks for the review, Luke, and for covering the night out for me and the Mrs.!

Aspiring cokeheads should sniff out our review of 2019's New Coke reissue. And if you fall in the Cocaine Bear gorehound camp, indulge in our roundup of ten underrated '80s horror movies. All the cool kids get high on the '80s and '90s.

Speedball Bonus: Here's an uncut (sorry) video of me paying tribute to Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines," featured in the Cocaine Bear end credits. Sadly, I had to give up my rap career as Webmaster Dave. Which is whiter: Cocaine or me? You be the judge in that drug court!


Excellent review and I agree with everything said. I had a few friends ask me if it was worth watching; I said it was but I would wait until it comes out on a streaming platform (haha)!

Mar 26, 2023
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