Cocaine Bear: Far From Practical But Surprisingly Factual

VIVA LA WHITE GIRL! What's real and what's not in Universal Studios Cocaine Bear.

VIVA LA WHITE GIRL! What’s real and what’s not in Universal Studios Cocaine Bear.

Elizabeth Banks hits her directorial stride and literally goes off the rails with this film.” You’ve probably seen this quote on Twitter, making its rounds as it should have been the quote for something somewhere, maybe even a poster, or the special edition Blu-ray. (But it wasn’t. I was gonna even refer to Gym Class Heroes’ 2017 deep cut “Viva La White Girl” in reference to her success and achievement in crafting such an amazing movie… 

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We’ll do whatever you want to

Girl, I’ll make a movie star of you

You know that I could

If you let me be your Hollywood

We’ll get high, and hide

We are lovers to the glamorous

White girl so fine

Going up on the downtown line

it’s perfect, it goes with the theme of Cocaine Bear; which are many. Annnnd I’ll get to that later, but I digress) but really she did an amazing job. It’s a feat to behold when you get, Ray Liota giving big-big multi-hyphenated energy in what is his final performance in thee best comedy-action-thriller of the year. Banks blends so many themes and makes them plot devices. Familial bonds, coming of age/loss of innocence stuff, punk kids, latch-key kids, geriatric romance, single parent life, buddy-cop dynamics, betrayal, nature documentaries (a la Werner Herzog… Trust me you’ll get it), true crime, horror, gore, action, and well placed dark comedy throughout. 


It’s said that there is no story that hasn’t already been told. Hollywood has known that for years, and Cocaine Bear is a glaring example. When it comes to how much; that’s when it needs to be fact-checked. Don’t worry, we have done it all for you. Well, we did the Google search and referred to a “USA Today” article. So apparently sometime in 1985, an ex-narcotics officer who served for two years, then quit became a lawyer. THEN… turned duffle bag boy (which would have been another social media needle drop. S/O to Lil Wayne) Andrew Thornton II (Matthew Rhys) brought somewhere up to 800 pounds of cocaine from Colombia into the US via plane.

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Oh, it gets better; trust me. When all of a sudden he hears that federal agents were onto him over the radio, he ditches the duffel bags full of coke; midair mind you. THEN jumped out and was found dead in a Tennessee driveway, body mangled, undeployed parachute, with night-vision goggles on his face, and Gucci loafers on his feet. He had knives, a couple of pistols, $4,500 in cash, and a duffel bag filled with about 75 pounds of cocaine worth a street value of $15 million on him. Banks even includes an old-school news report with Tom Brokaw. It’s actual footage, it’s real.

Anyway, The drug-filled duffle bags fell into a Georgia national park and somehow or other a bear got into some, one, or more of them. But unlike Cocaine Bear’s version, the coked-up creature AKA “Booger Sugar Boo Boo” didn’t unlife anyone, but instead the 175-pound black bear suffered a massive cocaine overdose at the indirect hand of one of Kentucky’s most notorious drug-smuggling criminals and was found surrounded by up to 40 open containers, all with traces of cocaine in them. So “Powder Paddington” (which earned the official nickname “Pablo Escobear”) eventually was stuffed and is now in a Kentucky mall.


You ever watch something; whether it be tv, film, or YouTube clip, and think to yourself. “Haven’t I seen them before?” Well, Cocaine Bear is full of that. Everyone has that face. The cast does read like a who’s who ten times over. Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Keri Russell (the Americans), O’Shea Jackson (Straight Outta Compton), Kristofer Hivju (Game of Thrones), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Alden Ehrenreich (Solo), Margo Martindale (The Riches), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Wire), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), and so on and so on…

 It’s not the faces that shine but the performances. Every person in Cocaine Bear played their role to perfection. There wasn’t a moment where you weren’t rooting for whoever was on the screen (after they made their motives clear). And let me get you ready by saying no one is good, and NO ONE is safe. *Ray Liotta* plays one of Kentucky’s most notorious drug smuggling criminals/grandfather who has to recover the drugs or he and his family are dead. Which consists of his son who has left the drug game to go straight, played by *Alden Ehrenreich*. Who has a son and just lost his wife to cancer.

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Which is brought back into the food due to one of his father’s henchmen and best friend played by *O’Shea Jackson*. They run into a federal agent who is on the trail of the lost blow, played by none other than mister “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiib” himself *Isiah Whitlock Jr.* And they are ALL chasing the bear for the bountiful blow in its belly. On the other end are people chasing the bear due to it being a danger to the national park. That’s where the park ranger played by *Margo Martindale* is actually preoccupied with the wildlife preservationist and their visit.

The wildlife preservationist, played by *Jesse Tyler Ferguson,* leads the walkabout of the park until they are told by super mom-nurse-and obvious tracker extraordinaire played by *Keri Russell* who is looking for her child that played hooky to paint the back side of a waterfall. I won’t go into everyone else because that would spoil the movie. What I can say is just as I illustrated above. Everyone has a motive that will have you rooting for them. Even when their motives clash. 


Cocaine Bear

All in all, Cocaine Bear is fun. Its performances were dynamic which really fleshed out the characters, making them three-dimensional which is hard to do for a comedy-action-thriller with a run time of one hour and thirty-five minutes. By the way, can we take a moment and thank the director, writers, and editors for getting the assignment and achieving that feat. It does feel like most can’t tell a simple story in that amount of time anymore. Every moment mattered and the lull or dry moments were far and few. In fact, I dare to say there were none. Again I ask, why can’t Hollywood do this more often?

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It’s like the clock buzzes and the instructor yells “pencils down” but Cocaine Bear still has 45 minutes of story they want to share when they clearly only needed 90 minutes. It was shot in a way that made you feel the anxiety, and comfort moments. The landscapes were lush, beautiful, and dreadfully real. Even when clearly being shot on a sound stage the transition from it to actual locations were seamless and not jarringly noticeable like bigger budget films. The CG was evident but what did you expect? It’s a cocaine bear (I win, I win. I said the title in natural conversation).

The comedy was shared and spread evenly it was organic to every situation in Cocaine Bear. The gore was at times campy and heavy-handed but still worked every time it was witnessed. The music was on point and never felt out of time like “A Knights Take” (yes; I know what they were doing in that movie, but not everyone has to be Baz Luhrmann, and yes; I’m aware, Moulin Rouge did come out the same year) I love Cocaine Bear it gets a 9 because it knows what it is and pulls no punches. It understands that you have the give the people what they want.

So This weekend don’t be a hippie at a commune trying to chase a feeling and don’t run off to some smaller world to escape your family issues. Go to a national park (via the comfort of a theater) and just outrun a bear. Cocaine Bear is in theaters.


Cocaine Bear

Release Date:
 February 24, 2023 (USA)
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Producers: Elizabeth Banks, Max Handelman, Phil Lord, Aditya Sood, Brian Duffield, Chris Miller
Art Director: Christine McDonagh
Cinematography: John Guleserian
Costume Design: Tiziana Corvisieri
Production Companies: Lord Miller Productions, Brownstone Productions, Jurassic Party Productions
Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Running Time: 95m
End Credits: 2 mid-credits
Cast: Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Christian Convery, Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brooklynn Prince, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Hoekstra and Aaron Holliday, with Emmy winner Margo Martindale and Emmy winner Ray Liotta

Inspired by the 1985 true story of a drug runner’s plane crash, missing cocaine, and the black bear that ate it, this wild dark comedy finds an oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists and teens converging in a Georgia forest where a 500- pound apex predator has ingested a staggering amount of cocaine and gone on a coke-fueled rampage for more blow … and blood.

How blown away were you by the facts? Did you like Cocaine Bear? Tell us what you thought in the comments below or on social media.

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Daniel Jerome

Freelance Journalist Content Producer, Onscreen Talent, Moderator, Host, and Resident Blovian (Black-Whovian) for the Illuminerdi. Carefully written fact-checked essay in the streets, and irresponsibly unmoderated comments section in the sheets. Tweet it, repeat it, you can delete it; don't give a flub, 'cause we will all see it.