Based on a true story

The new comedy “Cocaine Bear” is exactly what you think it is — a bear inhaling kilo after kilo of coke.

Impressively, however, director Elizabeth Banks keeps the powder gags fresh throughout, as the mammal maims her way through a Southern forest preserve. The movie about blow never blows.

movie review

Running time: 95 minutes. Rated R (bloody violence and gore, drug content and language throughout.) In theaters.

The hysterical film is based on a true story in the loosest possible sense. In 1985, a bear really was discovered in the woods of Georgia — dead after devouring a drug smuggler’s stash of cocaine, worth millions, that had been dropped over neighboring Tennessee from a plane.

In this insane telling, the animal not only survives the binge, but becomes a ferocious addict who will kill anybody who gets in the way of her next snort. It’s total lunacy — and extremely violent.

The film, with a crackling script by Jimmy Warden, partly functions as a campy sendup of 1990s monster horror movies, such as “Anaconda” and “Lake Placid,” about deadly, supercharged animals in our midst. Then, with its energetic ensemble of weirdos and piles of drugs, “Cocaine Bear” has a whiff of “The Hangover.” At times, the on-screen small-town thugs summon Sam Shepard. 

Sorry. I apologize. I’m overanalyzing a movie about a bear who loves cocaine.

Sari (Keri Russell) attempts to rescue her daughter and her little friend from the clutches of the cocaine bear.
Photo Credit: Pat Redmond/Univer

"Cocaine Bear" marks the final film for the late actor Ray Liotta (right).
“Cocaine Bear” marks the final film of the late actor Ray Liotta (right).
Photo Credit: Pat Redmond/Univer

“We have such good luck with nature!” a tourist cheerily proclaims at the start of the film, right before being terminally mauled by the beast. After that first casualty, the bear goes on a bloody rampage.

Crackhead Yogi has gory run-ins with locals, cops, rangers and dealers, each one more eccentric than the next. Keri Russell plays Sari, a determined mom who goes into the woods to rescue her daughter, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), and Dee Dee’s friend, Henry (Christian Convery). 

The lazy ranger on duty is Liz (Margo Martindale), but she’s distracted because her favorite parks inspector — and work crush — Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is visiting that day. Brash Liz is also dealing with three no-good hooligans (Aaron Holliday, J.B. Moore and Leo Hanna) who scare hikers into giving them cash.

Holliday, as Stache, is fairly new to major movies, and his turn here as a chatty rebel is exciting. He’s like an American version of Barry Keoghan in “The Banshees of Inisherin.”

Stache (Aaron Holliday, left) goes on a journey with Daveed (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) to find their lost cocaine.
Stache (Aaron Holliday, left) goes on a journey with Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) to find their lost cocaine.
Pat Redmond / Universal Pictures

Our two dealers, Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich, happily back in form) and Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) are frantically trying to recover their goods, while Officer Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) chases them down and misses his new puppy at home.

Sadly, “Cocaine Bear” is also Ray Liotta’s final film. The gung-ho actor, who died last May, is a scream as a long-haired, foul-mouthed drug boss. It feels right that he goes out making us laugh.

Giggles abound in Banks’ second go at directing, after her less successful “Charlie’s Angels,” back in 2019.

A very funny actress as well, Banks knows how to construct a great joke and surprise with a punchline. And, not unlike Edgar Wright did in his early “Shaun of the Dead” days, she can effectively balance horror with her humor. This isn’t a gimmick, just for yuks — there are are some solid scares here, made bigger by the fact that the well-animated CGI bear looks close to real.

Who knew that so early in 2023, we’d already be gifted the decade’s answer to “Snakes on a Plane”?