“Cocaine Bear” Review: Drug-fueled lesson in parenting

Think about two words that get your blood pumping, anything in the world. Did you come to “cocaine” and “bear?” If so, you’re right on the money. “Cocaine Bear” is an exhilarating true ride from start to finish and completes my checklist of a perfect movie: set in the ’80s, hot drug ring guy, funny twink, character actress Margo Martindale (whom I will be calling Margo Martindale because I forgot her character’s name) and an opioid-fueled bear.

Taking place in 1985, the film opens with a man on a plane throwing duffle bags full of cocaine into the world below, who then immediately falls out of said plane. A bear in an upstate Georgian state park finds this cocaine and becomes addicted, fast. Two young teens skip school to see a waterfall in the park, while two men working for a callous drug ringleader travel to the park searching for the lost drugs, one of them doing so begrudgingly. Following suit are a worried mother, a park ranger, a detective and a group of trouble-making teenage boys. The bear’s rampage begins.

While to the naked eye, it appears as a comedic gore-fest, this film captures some painful themes of familial relationships, growing up and (you guessed it) drugs. A motif of parenthood streaks through the movie like blood, with Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) feeling unseen by her mother Sari (Kerri Russell), Eddie’s (Alden Erhenreich) desire to be a better father after his wife died and drug ringleader Syd Dentwood (Ray Liotta) manipulating his son into the drug dispensing business. In fact, the returning subject was snuck into the bear’s first victims. A newlywed couple hiking through the forest is discussing their future together, how many children they have, what they’ll name them, when the bear offers, or forces, rather, a rude awakening.

People may find Dee Dee’s story relatable, as her and Sari’s situation is very common. Dee Dee seems to have an absent father, and Sari has started dating again, making Dee Dee feel overlooked. When Sari forgets her promise to “paint the waterfall” with Dee Dee, Dee Dee hatches a plan to hike out to it with her friend Henry. Dee Dee and Henry get separated, and Sari comes looking for them with the help of park ranger Margo Martindale. They find Henry up a tree, who retells his and Dee Dee’s experience with the “cocaine bear,” who shows up sniffing for cocaine. Surprise: while the “kid-gets-semi-neglected-and-runs-away-while-parent-runs-after-them” gag is a little overused, “Cocaine Bear” takes it and utilizes it perfectly.  We watch as Sari and Dee Dee’s friend Henry (Christian Convery) hunt her down, wary of the bear.

Sari hiding from the Cocaine Bear. (Pat Redmond/Universal Studios)

Meanwhile, Eddie Dentwood and his friend/coworker Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) venture into the forest to find the lost cocaine, so as to not anger Eddie’s father Syd. Eddie is coping with the death of his wife, who was a part of Dentwood’s drug operation, and has left his young son. Daveed is attacked in the park’s bathroom by a group of teenagers, who immediately get whopped. Like, incapacitated, cheek to the bathroom floor, out cold. Daveed wakes one of them up, who reveals they’ve stashed a duffle bag of cocaine in the park. He is coerced into revealing the location, and the party goes on their way.

Along the hike, Eddie reveals to the teen that he feels distant from his young son and feels he can’t connect with him. The teen lends some advice to Eddie after an anecdote about a pet lizard he had as a boy: “Lizards are good at listening. But humans are good at hearing.”

Eddie takes this to heart. This trio is, to me, the highlight of this movie. Nothing made me happier than seeing them on screen. Daveed begrudgingly followed along, set on collecting the cocaine.

Stache, Eddie and Daveed in search of the lost cocaine. (Universal Studios)

At the same time, in the visitor’s center, Margo Martindale and the two other (probably concussed) teens lock down when the bear rips in. The teenagers meet a hilariously gruesome death at the hands of the bear, and Margo Martindale is carted away in an ambulance as the bear chases her down. Miraculously, the bear manages to jump into the ambulance and slaughter everyone onboard.

Death shouldn’t be this funny, especially in the disgustingly gory way it’s depicted, but the old man in the theater that sat in front of me found it absolutely droll and could not stop howling. The absurdity of the way they were killed makes this movie all the more iconic.

In the final scenes, we see two great feats of parenthood and one lame one. Sari and Henry manage to find Dee Dee along the secret waterfall, along with two drugged up bear cubs. Eddie and Daveed, having lost the kid, are marching after the family, led by none other than Eddie’s father, and followed by none other than the bear. Syd is after that cocaine, man. He verbally assails his own son, and in that moment, we realize the true villain was him all along. In fact, he almost kills a child. And then he kills the bear.

To escape, Sari takes Dee Dee and Henry and jumps into the river below. Eddie and Daveed follow, while Syd manages to find the last bag of cocaine. While he celebrates his genius, a sprinkle of cocaine lands on the bear’s nose, bringing it back from the dead. As it launches at Syd and rips his intestines out for her children to eat, the two parties below find their way back to the visitor’s center as the sun comes up.

The true story of the Cocaine Bear is a bit more anticlimactic. Pablo Escobear, nicknamed Cokey the Bear, overdosed and died, instead of siccing random hikers. Although not faithful to the original story at all, I appreciated this retelling more. I loved this movie so much. Genuinely. An incredible movie and a rollercoaster all the way through. A romping good time! My thoughts after watching this were that I should really think about how I’m going to raise my children.

Final score: 9.8/10.