Cocaine Bear — Saturday Night At the Movies

I, like many, gain much of my history knowledge from memes. Years ago, the meme of Cocaine Bear crossed my path, and I thought it was hilarious. Cocaine Bear, aka Pablo Escobear, aka Cokey, the Bear, was an American black bear that overdosed on cocaine in 1985. The story goes that cocaine had been dropped by drug smugglers in the wilderness of Tennessee, but the bear was found dead in Georgia. I knew the story, and when I saw that they were making a film based on the events, I knew I had to see it.

The real cocaine bear
This is the real cocaine bear, currently stuffed. (Wikipedia)

The film certainly takes some liberties with the story. Well, 90% of the film is liberties with the story. There are a few truths. We know that the bear did cocaine—enough to kill it. Also, the film starts fairly accurately with a man named Andrew C. Thornton flying a plane and dumping cocaine out the side. He jumped out of the plane, got caught in his own parachute, and died. That’s about all we get of what actually happened in real life.

Cocaine Bear — The Dark and Gory Comedy

Movies often portray things terribly. Guns, cars, boats, computers, and more are seemingly misunderstood by the world of Hollywood. One thing Hollywood doesn’t get wrong is cocaine. It’s almost like most people involved with creating films have some experience with cocaine. It’s really weird. We’ll chalk it up to good research.

cocaine bear poster
“Inspired by True Events” is used very loosely.

“Cocaine Bear” is not a serious film in any way, shape, or form. I think we all know that. It’s in that genre of “Snakes on a Plane” where the film is intentionally trying to be bad. Maybe not bad as a film, but it’s not trying to be “The Godfather.” It’s not an Oscar winner, which is perfectly fine with me. “Cocaine Bear” aims to be a black comedy with some horror elements. It’s dark, gory, and most certainly a film made for adults and edgy teenagers.

If that’s fine with you, you’ll enjoy this film. It’s a fun popcorn flick that you might watch twice, and it’ll fade away before becoming a cult classic replayed in the USA in some censored form. I liked it because it’s a break from franchise films. It’s not a Marvel film, not a huge special effects monster, just a funny film about a meme-worthy event.

I’m Your Pusher

“Cocaine Bear” follows several different groups of people who are tied together by the Cocaine Bear and the appropriately named Blood Mountain. The film opens with a pair of Swedish hikers who are the first to encounter the bear. As the film progresses, we have a mom seeking out her daughter and her daughter’s friend, a Park Ranger with a crush on a biologist, and of course, the drug smugglers looking to recover their lost cocaine. 

It’s a simple story that’s tough to tell. Mixing in different characters and motivations keeps things moving. Ray Liotta plays the bad guy and head drug smuggler Syd, and it’s worth mentioning that this is his last film. He’s in his element as the tough guy. O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays his loyal employee alongside Syd’s son Eddie, played by Alden Ehrenreich.

Cocaine bear bad guys
This motley crew is up against a coked-up bear

The film doesn’t overstay its welcome at 95 minutes. It’s a quick, fun watch. The comedy comes not only from the drug-fueled bear and its rage but from character interactions. All the characters seem to have good chemistry with each other and their conversations, observations, and the situation they find themselves in.

It does flow together well, even though some of the jokes simply don’t land and feel oddly tacked on. For example, Bob, played by Isiah Whitlock Jr., has a fancy little dog that they keep making jokes about. However, we barely ever see the dog or Bob interacting with the dog for the jokes to really hit.

The conversations and dialog were where I got the most laughs. There is also so much over-the-top gore that it becomes funny more than tragic or gross. It taps into the “Toxic Avenger” mindset.

Gripes, Complaints, and Heckles

The CGI bear looks terrible. At least up close, it does. When the bear is just killing and roaring, it’s fine, but whenever the film slows down, it really looks bad. Bad CGI stands out a lot in a world where “Avatar 2” exists.

The movie has great pacing and charges full steam ahead, but the Stephen King-like ending feels muddled. As if they asked, “How do we end this film?” The answer seemed to be, “I don’t know. Let’s just end it.”

The Guns of Cocaine Bear

If you told me I had to go up against a bear fueled by Colombian nose sugar, I don’t quite know what I would pack. I think a .458 SOCOM AR would work, or maybe a semi-auto shotgun loaded with slugs. Something big for sure. My sidearm would be a Glock 40 loaded with hard-cast lead rounds from Buffalo Bore.

ranger aims model 10 in cocaine bear
The .38 Special isn’t enough.

In the film, they don’t get the advantage of knowing what is coming at them. Our Park Ranger, who reminds everyone she is a peace officer, carries a period-appropriate .38 Special. We don’t get a great look at the gun, but I’d say it’s a Model 10 HB. It’s not quite effective on bears. Our police detective from Tennessee carries another period-appropriate Model 36 by S&W.

Ray liotta with a rifle in cocaine bear
Ray brings a rifle to a bear fight.

Our drug smuggler Daveed carries some kind of compact Beretta. It’s not a 92 but features the same open-top design. It’s tough to say which model, but if I had to guess, it’s a Beretta 86. Again, we never get a great look, but it’s certainly a compact design rather than a 92 series gun.

Ray Liotta seems to be the only one loaded for bear. He carries a Remington 700 with a scope. It’s a traditional wood stock model complete with iron sights. No mention of the caliber, but it’s infinitely better than a .380 ACP or .38 Special for dealing with a bear.

Da Bears

Luckily, none of our heroes or villains harm the bear, who turns out to be a mom to two cubs. The bears get to live happily ever after, hopefully after receiving the help they need from an addiction specialist. If you want a fun movie with low stakes and doesn’t involve caped crusaders, then give “Cocaine Bear” a watch.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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