Culture Pick: “Cocaine Bear” goes about as you’d expect it to

Luke McClinton, Contributing Writer

Long and strong has been the anticipation for “Cocaine Bear,” which was arguably one of the most intriguing and delirious concepts of the 2023 movie landscape. According to the Google summary, “a 500-pound black bear consumes a significant amount of cocaine and goes on a drug-fueled rampage.” Directed by Elizabeth Banks of “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Charlie’s Angels” fame, the film has opened to a 71% Critics’ Rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 54 Metascore 

It does not take long for the sanguinary tone to take hold. The opening scene sees a tranquil pair of fiancés hiking through the Georgian Blood Mountain woods where they encounter a frenetic, seemingly inebriated black bear. When they attempt to flee, the bear catches and brutally kills the woman, leaving the man in a state of shock. 

From there, the movie spends about an hour bouncing between several different plotlines featuring a variety of colorful characters.  

Much time is spent following the activity of drug kingpin Syd White, who is played by the late Ray Liotta, his son Eddie, played by Alden Ehrenreich, and his henchman Daveed, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. Together, they seek to collect a lucrative amount of cocaine that has been dropped over Blood Mountain. 

We also follow Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s Detective Bob, a Tennessean who has been tracking Syd for years. After hearing word of the trek to Blood Mountain, he makes the trip as an outside party without jurisdiction. 

Our most prototypical protagonist plot lies with junior high student Dee Dee, played by Brooklynn Prince, and her friend Henry, played by Christian Convery, who decide to skip school in order to spray-paint the Blood Mountain waterfalls, an activity in which Dee Dee and her mother Sari, performed by Keri Russell, normally partake. Upon finding this out, Sari voyages to the Mountain to retrieve the children. 

All these threads play out in parallel before ultimately intersecting as the film drives towards its climax. Connecting them is the titular bear itself, which consumes a substantial amount of cocaine early in the story and continues to do so, or at least attempt to do so without ceasing. The bear has an almost constant presence, always frenzied and feral. 

For how insane the concept of “Cocaine Bear” might be, what stands out most upon first viewing the movie is its dryness. Something about the way the story plays out is short of being truly enthralling. If one were given the foundational pieces of this film, from its characters to its premise, and told to predict the directions the narrative would take, one would likely do so with success; seldom does it go beyond its intriguing concept.  

Stereotypes of intellectually deficient southerners, one-dimensionally vicious drug dealers, and lucky and overly intelligent child protagonists are hallmarks of this movie. Predictable story tropes are employed. The gore and violence are even cumbersome as well; out of a gratuitous number of kills, only one or two are creative and cool, or as “cool” as being maimed can be. 

There are also many shortcomings and moments of sloppiness. The dialogue is frequently contrived and at times cringeworthy, like during Henry’s brief monologue in the climax. The tone is all over the place, ranging from humorous to tragic, and it makes for a conflicting and off-putting watch. 

It would be imprudent to allege there is absolutely nothing of positivity to find. Even if it is never quite thrilling, there is still much fun to be had in watching a bear high on cocaine indulge in a killing spree. It never soars, but for such a ballistic concept, its floor is too high for it to be subpar. 

In a vacuum, this movie is decent, and an amusing-enough way to spend an afternoon. It is very little more than a turn-your-brain-off flick, although its premise beholds a large amount of potential, which is where the disappointment hails. 

“Cocaine Bear” can be seen exclusively in theaters.