Review Roundup: Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear

Critics respond to Elizabeth Banks’ horror comedy about a drug-loving bear.
Cocaine Bear - Elizabeth Banks

Believe it or not, but Cocaine Bear — which is a movie about a bear that, surprise!, does a lot of cocaine — is based on a true story. Let’s just get that out of the way first. The latest movie from director Elizabeth Banks (2019’s Charlie’s Angels) tries to imagine what might’ve happened had said bear gone on a wild rampage against a motley assortment of bumbling humans.

Obviously, there’s nothing subtle about the movie — what you see is what you get. But is that enough to please critics? Will Cocaine Bear be your new favorite cult hit? Or does the title, short and succinct as it is, promise more than it can deliver? And how many drug-related jokes and puns can critics fit into their reviews?

Read on to find out.

Paul Attard, Dumber than the average bear”

Cocaine Bear starts running on fumes almost instantly and peters out before the second brick of cocaine is even devoured. This is a film that finds characters trading irreverent banter at a steady clip and, at one point, tough-guy drug dealers playing a game of 20 questions that leaves them feeling all the feels — all before the bear sinks its paws and teeth into them. Maybe the film could have soared if the carnage felt more gleefully unhinged or unnerving, because then it would have been easier to ignore the fact that, if you replaced the bear with Jason Vorhees, or Freddy Krueger, or just about any other on-screen maniac, you’ve seen this film before.

Nicholas Barber, Strangely timid for a film called Cocaine Bear

Given the premise, the film could have made some provocative points about the environment, or cruelty to animals, or America’s war on drugs. Alternatively, it could have made no points whatsoever, and just been a helter-skelter, blood-and-guts exploitation movie in which a bunch of manic misfits are chomped to pieces. But what we actually get is strangely timid for a film called Cocaine Bear. Ironically, it doesn’t have much bite. Rather than focusing on being outrageous and entertaining, Banks and Warden focus on sappy musings about the importance of being a caring parent and a loyal friend. But if you pay to see a B-movie about a furry giant with a taste for class-A narcotics, why would you want to hear those?

Justin Chang, Enjoyably grisly”

Nasty, brutish and snort-filled, Cocaine Bear provides an extremely gory and amusingly speculative answer. Having grabbed headlines with its viral trailer, cheerfully self-explanatory title and sly redefinition of “high concept,” the movie has already invited obvious pre-release comparisons to Snakes on a Plane, the (sadly underseen) 2006 thriller that soared for months as an internet sensation before crashing to box-office earth. Whether or not audiences form lines for Cocaine Bear, it’s hard to completely dismiss a mainstream horror-comedy that offers a nice supply of sharp and grisly, at least until it takes a disappointing turn for soft and cuddly.

Michael Gingold, Suspending disbelief is what a movie like Cocaine Bear is all about”

You’re not here to see a serious work of genre cinema; you’re here to see if the movie lives up to the bluntest title promising the most ridiculous premise since Snakes on a Plane (a film I can happily report this one surpasses). Is Cocaine Bear a movie you’ll be thinking about a couple of days after you see it? Not likely. Is it a movie that delivers plenty of low-rent entertainment, particularly if seen with an enthusiastic audience? Does a bear poop in the woods (about the only thing Cocaine Bear doesn’t do)?

J Hurtado, This gleefully gory gutbuster doesn’t blow”

Where Cocaine Bear really shines is in delivering a briskly paced animal attack slasher with creative kills, laugh out loud gore gags, and providing a slightly skewed version of reality that’s just a little bit kookier than the one we actually inhabit. Banks and Warden aren’t afraid to sic the bear on characters we care about, and once the first of our main cast bites the dust it’s clear that no one is safe and that makes every moment we get to spend with these colorful characters so much more precious.

Christy Lemire, An incredible blast”

Cocaine Bear knows exactly what it is and what it needs to do. It’s about a bear… on cocaine. Comparisons to the 2006 disaster extravaganza Snakes on a Plane are inevitable, with its high-concept, wild-animal premise, as well as the giddy hype that preceded it. Both movies do precisely what their titles suggest, with a minimal desire to be more substantial or meaningful. The few times Cocaine Bear injects even a meager amount of sentimentality, the pacing starts to lag. This is not why we are here. We’re here to see a bear snort a bunch of cocaine, then go on a murderous rampage in the forest.

Clarisse Loughrey, Lives up to its gloriously stupid title”

Elizabeth Banks’s film turns its titular character into nature’s own avenging angel, who tears human beings apart as one might drunkenly demolish a McNuggets Sharebox after a night out.

Meagan Navarro, A raucously entertaining and gory horror-comedy”

Cocaine Bear delivers on what it promises. Banks and Warden’s intentionally on-the-nose (pun intended) humor and playful puns maximize the concept of a large predator coked out beyond belief. As does the bear’s ability to rip its prey apart with ease. Banks leans into the absurdity of the concept and brings the horror-comedy fun. The odd couple partnership between Jackson and Ehrenreich and a scene-stealing Convery stand out among an all-star cast already firing on all cylinders.

Michael Phillips, A movie high on its own supply of mediocrity”

It gives me no pleasure to hate on Cocaine Bear. The director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2, the Charlie’s Angels reboot) isn’t the chief problem, even if her mashup of dismemberment, mugging, and dubious heartwarming is this month’s working definition of “tonal problems.” But with this script, the project was cooked long before the actors got to the set, ready to interact with a digital, coked-up bear to be created further down the production pipeline.

Richard Roeper, Goes hilariously off the rails”

This is a genuinely well-crafted horror gem with a winning cast, some nifty twists and a very good bear who betrays its CGI origins maybe 10% of the time but for the most part looks like an actual, cocaine-fueled black bear with lightning-quick reflexes, a big bite and an insatiable appetite for coke on the rocks. And in the trees. And on the cliffs.

Nick Schager, A disaster that’s too high on its own supply”

Banks’ film assumes its title will both get people into seats and then suffice when it comes to entertaining them, compensating for a dearth of jokes, details and basic craftsmanship — the last of which is epitomized by a late reference to a mutilated victim that the director then suddenly, bizarrely cuts to, thereby putting the cart before the horse. Slapdash beyond repair, it’s the sort of squandered-potential debacle to which one should just say no.

Peter Travers, It’s not so bad it’s good”

Despite the bite that Cocaine Bear is expected to take out of the box office, the movie — shot in Ireland by the way (go figure) — doesn’t live up to its grindhouse potential. The R-rated carnage keeps diluting the laughs, and vice versa. I guess the moral of this missed opportunity is that a bear can’t have its cocaine and eat it too.

Cocaine Bear is currently in theaters. Watch the trailer below.

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