Cocaine Bear 4K

by Glenn Erickson Sep 19, 2023

The two-word title for this thriller demonstrates real Truth in Advertising — it’s all about the ba-a-d bear, and everyone else is Special Supporting Snack Food. This 2023 equivalent of an old-fashioned Creature Feature generated positive buzz last February. It’s just your average gore horror thriller with some big talent, that’s also an irreverent comedy and a heartwarming story of children and cute animals. The aim was to be a raucous audience participation freakout: who will be the next victim of the drug-fueled Ursa Major?  Disclaimer: if you want the movie about the Hollywood bear that sells cocaine, you want that guy named Yogi.

Cocaine Bear 4K
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
2023 / Color / 2:39 widescreen / 95 min. / Street Date September 19, 2023 / Available from moviezyng / 27.98
Starring: Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Brooklynn Prince, Christian Convery, Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Hoekstra, Ayoola Smart, Aaron Holliday, J.B. Moore, Leo Hanna, Kahyun Kim, Scott Seiss, Matthew Rhys.
Cinematography: John Guleserian
Production Designer: Aaron Haye
Art Directors: Conor Denison, Christine McDonagh, David Meyer
Special Visual Effects: Weta FX, Film FX Ireland, Halon Entertainment, Rising Sun Pictures, Clear Angle Studios, Exceptional Minds, Gentle Giant Studios, Lola VFX
Film Editor: Joel Negron
Original Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Written by Jimmy Warden
Produced by Elizabeth Banks, Brian Duffield, Max Handelman, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Aditya Sood
Directed by
Elizabeth Banks

As the pandemic wound down (did it really wind down?) some big audience pleasers returned to theaters. This old-fashioned horror comedy had a couple of big weekends without becoming an enormous hit. With its notable cast from TV and streaming, it definitely had the ingredients for a breakout event. Everybody likes Keri Russell of Felicity and The Diplomat, and Alden Eherenreich and Margo Martindale have positive recognition factor. Cocaine Bear aims to deliver good mindless thrills, and we can see it being great fun with a raucous audience. Ten assorted movie types — crooks, cops, a mom and some kids — are terrorized by a deranged monster. It’s not a space alien or demon from hell, just an ordinary black bear. But it’s been driven crazy by consuming mass quantities of cocaine.  If that’s not a sure-fire story hook, what is?

To some this may sound like ‘Low Expectations Theater,’ but we think there ought to be place in moviegoing for all kinds of pictures. Cocaine Bear generates a fun anticipation of old-fashioned matinee thrills . . . make that old-fashioned ‘R’-rated matinee thrills.

The show is based on a true incident, the same way that The Wizard of Oz is based on the reality of tornadoes. A misguided smuggler tried to parachute out over a forest with his drug cargo, D.B. Cooper– style. His chute didn’t open, but the story didn’t end there — investigators found that a bear broke into a bag of cocaine and died after eating a brick or two. Screenwriter Jimmy Warden spun this Ursine tragedy into a body-count horror show, bouncing between light comedy and graphic gore. The slaughter of civilians follows the horror play book — various ‘amusing’ innocents become Bear Chow but anointed Nice Folk are spared. On the other hand, the mayhem among the cops and crooks survive in a much less predictable way.


Apparently high himself, parachutist drug runner Thornton (Matthew Rhys of The Post) scatters several cocaine-filled sports bags over the hills of Georgia, but doesn’t survive the fall. Not long afterward, two Dutch hikers (Kristofer Hivju of Game of Thrones & Hannah Hoekstra) are attacked by a crazed Cocaine Bear. To avoid a reprisal from the cartel for losing so much ‘product,’ Thornton’s associate Syd (star Ray Liotta, in his last movie) hforces his pal Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr. of Straight Outta Compton) and his reluctant son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich of Hail, Caesar!) to rush to the forest in a recovery mission. Some hopped-up petty crooks have gotten their first, so Daveed and Eddie force the foolish Stache (Aaron Holiday) to lead them to a gazebo where a bag of cocaine is stashed.

All this happens on a day that grade schoolers Henry and Dee Dee (Christian Convery & Brooklyn Prince) decide to cut class and sneak off to the forest so Dee Dee can paint a waterfall. Dee Dee’s mother, nurse Sari (star Keri Russell) rushes to the park to find them, only to be slowed down by two Park Rangers, the irritatingly patronizing Peter and Liz ( Margo Martindale of Ride with the Devil, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson). And also rushing to the scene are the smart drug enforcement officers Bob and Reba (Ayoola Smart, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. of Da 5 Bloods).


The armed cops, thugs and gangsters clash even before the bear attacks, while the pea-brained Park Rangers give Sari a hard time. Two paramedics arrive, only to find themselves face-to-face with the killer bear. The punks that mingle with samples of recovered cocaine are at a real disadvantage, because the bear can smell the stuff from a mile away. Even little Henry and Dee Dee play with a brick of white powder. They separate when attacked — forcing Sari to undertake a panicked search as well.

The very good actors are mostly underused, filling out roles that take none of them in a memorable direction. The star here is the ‘monster’ bear, fueled by cocaine. Director Banks resists the Jaws gambit making the she-bear enormous; normal-big is big enough. A one point it simply falls asleep atop a cringing human, pinning him to the ground with perhaps 500 (?) soft pounds. Ms. Banks is fond of Jack Arnold® jump scares, as an unexpected bear claw must reach into the frame at least 5 times. The compositions for some of these telegraph the gag, but they work anyway.

The cocaine-deranged she-bear is first observed acting erratically, butting its head against trees. She plows into piles of the white stuff, just like Al Pacino in the Scarface remake. It’s like a new version of a Cheech & Chong movie — seriously Under the Influence, the bear staggers and stumbles and shakes its head. But it also reacts to its cocaine high by getting seriously pissed off, and ripping people to pieces. Knowing the crowd that would turn out for a show titled Cocaine Bear, we can picture total audience approval for the she-bear’s drug-fueled onslaught.


The bear is mostly high-grade CGI work created by an army of pixel-pushing artists. Her erratic actions are convincing and credible, and director Banks has resisted the temptation to turn her into a clown. She’s believable when galloping after a fleeing ambulance — and leaping into it in a slow-motion, as might a Marvel superhero. Just like Yogi, this is no average bear.

Nobody thinks getting a dog drunk for laughs is acceptable behavior anymore, and audiences would not likely be amused seeing it dramatized on screen, eithr. Yet it’s pretty funny when the dizzy-brained she-bear looks enebriated. Cocaine Bear wants to have it both ways: the ‘family in jeopardy’ scenes could have come from a Hallmark Movie, yet one scene depicts two ten-year-olds trying to eat cocaine. They spit it out in disgust … does that make it okay?

The gore will disturb some audiences, while giving confirmed gorehounds something to chuckle about. The grossout scenes play out like Grand Guignol, with legs ripped off and an arm folded in half. An accidental gunshot results in head injury only a little less unsettling than the dreadful spatter mess in Fulci’s The Beyond. Some of these ha-ha (?) gags have a Herschel Gordon Lewis appeal, only with convincing special effects. The face of a woman thrown from a speeding car is ground into the asphalt, which is just the giddy gross-out horror audience wants. Think of the craziest scenes in Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator: “Oh no, they aren’t going to do that!


But the movie also wants to be ‘nice.’ The third act goes against the nihilism of popular horror items like Wes Craven’s Scream. The ‘nice’ refers to present-day PC conventions. Nurse Sari is assertive, and so is her daughter, who left a Hansel & Gretel trail as she fled the cocaine bear. The worst lowlifes get shredded by the she-monster, but some ‘Good’ drug criminals squeak by untouched. A possible sign of Script By Committee may be the emphasis on an adorable pet dog. Yes, that was a human being disemboweled, but isn’t the puppy cute?

The direction is mostly good, especially the nicely storyboarded Bear Vs. The World violence. The scenery is gorgeous. Ireland apparently stands in for Georgia, and they do a good job of faking it. The movie isn’t very stylish, as can be seen in the finale in a rather dull cavern, that makes us yearn for the excitement of Tom Sawyer’s cave. But the director knows to sell the violent gags through the extreme reactions of her cast, whether terrified-goofy or just plain terrified.


The movie indulges in three or four post-Tarantino mini-flashbacks, mostly to set up characters. One shows a narrative event that was ‘skipped’ — Daveed mentions that they saw a corpse a few minutes back, and we get a flashback glimpse of its half-eaten head. Perhaps we missed a clue — we’re not entirely sure whose corpse it is.

As said above, the actors are good but none really kicks the drama/fun into a higher level. Keri Russell isn’t the riveting presence of her great TV work, while the underplaying of the late Ray Liotta feels too much like general exhaustion. We assume everybody had a great time on the Irish locations.

Cocaine Bear is a gross-out comedy for a specialized but enthusiastic audience. Some moviegoers will find it too cruel, and the hardcore fans will object to the concessions made to Spielberg-ish PG-13 values (it’s R, by the way). Our personal reaction?  We like it more than the Spielberg monolith’s Jurassic Park movies, which only pretend to put their all-family casts in jeopardy, and instead kill off characters deemed unpleasant, inconsequential or inconvenient. Director Banks at least tries to give all of her bear-bait victims endearing personalities.



Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital of Cocaine Bear 4K is exactly what we expect from a new ‘A’ level production backed by a major studio. We’re told that the show is all-digital from camera to final product. The images are flawless. All those beautiful woodsy locations are treat on a big monitor. The CGI effects are detectable only when the bear performs on cue. When her eyes pop open at the smell of cocaine, the comedy timing is perfect. The animation is excellent — the she-bear’s ‘run cycle’ for the ambulance pursuit is really convincing.

The extras (listed below) answer a lot of questions about the show, like just how much of the bear was computer-generated. No spoilers from me. Elizabeth Banks’ conversational audio commentary reminds us that many actors now run their own production companies; she clearly a crack businesswoman, and opening any movie in the post-pandemic climate was a big risk. Ms. Banks introduces her commentary partner Max Handelman as also being her personal AND business partner. Her cast appears to have been selected from a wide circle of friends in the Biz.

Among the extras are some deleted scenes. The ‘alternate ending’ appears to be another button for the credits roll-out. The fast-paced Cocaine Bear doesn’t wear out its welcome — minus the credit roll, it’s not much longer than the average 1950s matinee thriller.

In addition to the two discs, Universal has included a code for a digital copy.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Cocaine Bear 4K
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Audio commentary with director Elizabeth Banks and producer Max Handelman
Alternate Ending (1 min)
Gag Reel (2 mins)
Deleted and Extended Scenes (5 mins)
Making-of featurette All Roads lead to Cokey (9 mins)
Production featurette Unbearable Bloodbath: Dissecting the Kills of Cocaine Bear (8 mins)
Doing Lines — the cast reads script extracts (4 mins).
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital in Keep case
September 17, 2023

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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