Cocaine Bear review: Perfectly wild and notably flawed

Yes, I'm glad I paid good money for Cocaine Bear

(L to R) Keri Russell as Sari, hiding from, the bear in Cocaine Bear
(Image: © Universal Pictures)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Cocaine Bear is exactly what its title says it is. A bear does cocaine, and wreaks havoc on a park full of silly people, while Ray Liotta pushes his band of criminals to track down the missing cocaine.


  • +

    Yes, the bear does cocaine

  • +

    Solid performances from the cast

  • +

    Plenty of hilarious and violent chaos


  • -

    Feels a little long, as short as it is

  • -

    A little slow at times

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Thinking about how to write this Cocaine Bear review, I'll admit I want to say "needs more cocaine and more bears." But when Cocaine Bear starts with a goofy and silly attack, and never takes itself too seriously, I realized that a lack of drugs or drugged-up animals isn't actually its problem.

Cocaine Bear, if you've somehow landed here without hearing the elevator pitch, is a perfectly farcical action/comedy about a real life incident. In 1985, drug smugglers who dropped cocaine into the forest of Tennessee accidentally wound up giving it to a bear who earned the nickname Pablo Eskobear.

The best compliment I can give Cocaine Bear is that it feels imbued with some of the Wet Hot American Summer energy, which makes sense when Elizabeth Banks directed it. Cocaine Bear is also proof that movies aren't getting stale, and that we can have original films in theaters that still garner attention. The worst thing I can say is that I did find myself checking my watch for the time at a couple of moments.

Sure, the titular coked-up bear delivers some amazing moments (one of which is very much already getting air time in the trailers), and that's great. But this Cocaine Bear review will explain that the real Cocaine Bears are the friends we made along the way. Also, we expect Cocaine Bear to wind up on Peacock sometime this spring or summer, if you're looking to wait.

Cocaine Bear review: It's about ... family?

I won't spoil any of the shocks and surprises, but the biggest twist of the entire Cocaine Bear movie is that it's all about family. Sari (Keri Russell) is a mom trying to find her runaway daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), who's off with Henry (Christian Convery). 

The kids are rebelling because of mom's new boyfriend, and wind up embroiled in thrilling nonsensical adventures. Convery gets the best material to work with by far, and he delivers bizarre one-liners that are probably the best in the film.

(L to R) O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Daveed, Alden Ehrenreich as Eddie, Ayoola Smart as Reba and Ray Liotta as Syd in Cocaine Bear

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

They're all contrasted with the family of crooks, with Syd (Ray Liotta) who pushes his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and cohort Daveed (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) to hunt the missing coke that was thrown out of a plane (yes, that happened, this is based on a true story). Syd's a bad dad, and Liotta never misses an opportunity to proverbially "slap" Ehrenreich with angry dialogue to prove it. While Daveed feels like the realer character of the group, Syd and Eddie's dysfunctional relationship works off the performances, and helps drive the plot.

Cocaine Bear co-star Alden Ehrenreich is so much more entertaining in this movie than he was in Solo

Meanwhile, Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is the cop tracking down the missing cocaine. Except he's slightly preoccupied with his quest to adopt a dog. Whitlock Jr., who you may remember as The Wire's s**t-talking Clay Davis, is perfect in this role of down-on-his-luck cop. There's also, arguably, a story about a found-family, with three dumb thugs who wander the park and try to terrorize everyone. 

There's more to say about "family," but I'm not going to spoil one of the movie's best moments.

Cocaine Bear review: The bear's the best part

Cocaine Bear's best and worst moments involved its titular bear, in that I loved every moment the manic mammal was on screen — and missed him every moment he wasn't there for. Somehow, Elizabeth Banks finally managed to make Homer Simpson's dream of Poochie happen, as I kept wondering "where's Cocaine Bear?"

From a fantastic chase scene to a hilarious bit involving tall trees, the Cocaine Bear is always adding to the movie. Maybe Banks & Co. didn't include more of their titular character because they didn't want to overdo it, but the moments without him felt lacking.

The Bear in Cocaine Bear climbing a tree.

(Image credit: Universal Pictures via YouTube)

The more gruesome and violent moments (most of which are a result of the bear's actions), though, will keep audiences thoroughly entertained. 

Outlook: Should you see Cocaine Bear?

If you're up for a slightly bloody comic romp about a bear that's gone wild on nose candy? Then you should buy your ticket to see Cocaine Bear ASAP.

Also, Cocaine Bear co-star Alden Ehrenreich is so much more entertaining in this movie than he was in Solo, the Star Wars movie where he played a young Han Solo. So, don't let his past work make you taint Cocaine Bear. 

Lastly, this Cocaine Bear review needs to mention that it's Ray Liotta's final film, and it feels like a darkly perfect ending. Liotta's Syd borrows little notes from all of the scummiest guys he's ever played in movies, and it helps Cocaine Bear fit into the larger world of drug movies.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.