Review – Yogi Sniffs More Than Food (“Cocaine Bear”)

In 1985 a black bear in Georgia ate a 175lb bag of coke, died, and is currently stuffed and on display at The Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, KY. Hey, so why not embellish the hell out of this little side-story and create a horror/comedy film? Pffft! Sounds good to me!

Although the action all takes place in the Chattanooga Valley, Georgia in 1985, the actual location shoot was in beautiful County Wicklow, Ireland! Anyway, the story: patched together like a quilt, this multi-storied plot has several characters all thrown together. After a dim-witted drug runner chucks out a ton of cocaine from a plane, a great big black bear eats a bunch of it and gets an appetite for more. That’s when his killing spree commences and the gruesome fun begins. But before all the mayhem we have to suffer through character exposition. We get introduced to single mom and nurse Sari (Keri Russell) trying to take care of her precocious 13-year-old daughter, Dee Dee (Brooklyn Prince) who decides to play hookey and go hiking with her BFF, Henry (Christian Convery).

Meanwhile, drug lord Syd Dentwood (the late Ray Liotta) wants his coke back, so he sends his depressed son, Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), and hired gun, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, jr) after the drugs, but they’re thwarted by a punk teenager (Aaron Holliday) and police chief Bob (Isaiah Whitlock, jr). Then you also have oh-so-serious Park Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) and her goofy boyfriend (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) who are trying to help Sari find her lost kid. Throw into the mix a pair of ambulance drivers (Kahyum Kim & Scott Seiss) and let the party begin! After the second act rolls out, the real action starts with that bear (puppetry and CGI) attacking and, in some cases, going full Tarantino on some people with graphic carnage and blood.

It’s all one big chase movie with Syd chasing after his lost drugs while others are being chased by a rampaging coked-out bear. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you, if novice screenwriter Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter: Killer Queen) would have written a better script. Tonally, this movie is all over the map; it’s a comedy, a drama, a blood ‘n’ guts horror film, and a personal bonding movie. Geez, Louise, pick a genre! When it finally manages to stand still for a few minutes, it really delivers on the comedy/horror akin to An American Werewolf in London. And there are some very graphic and iccky deaths that are pretty shocking, considering the humorous set-up right before it.

Take away the humor and the creative way the bear chows down, and the rest of the movie skips around (sometimes jarringly) with dumb Oprah-level soap opera nonsense that slows down the tempo. But ya gotta hand it to the actors who are having fun through it all. The kids (Prince and Convery) are quite good and don’t have that “Hollywood” exuberance, while Russell is excellent as the protective mama. Jackson and Ehrenreich share some great dramatic screen chemistry, although it’s misplaced in this movie. Then you have some very funny moments with Martindale and Ferguson who throw their over-acting chops to the wind. And give credit to the WetaFX guys for coming up with a damn good-looking CGI bear. It sure looked real to me!

And then there’s Elizabeth Banks. Okay, she’s a terrific actress (The Hunger Games franchise, Brightburn), there’s no denying that. But as a director? Yeah, well, about that. The woman is okay at best. Whether it’s Pitch Perfect 2, Movie 43, or Charlie’s Angels, her skills behind the camera lack the ferocity necessary for a movie of this kind. This movie needed the Zucker Brothers, Adam McKay, Tom Shadyac, Mike Judge, Judd Apatow, or Amy Heckerling, someone with real comedy experience to make this movie a whiz-bang howler. It had so much potential for a hilarious comedy/horror film like the absurd Scary Movie franchise.


Oh, well.

**Now showing only  in theaters

Grizzly (1976)

In an obvious cash-grab off the major blockbuster success of 1975’s Jaws, this movie decided to have a giant bear be the main villain instead of a shark. Oh, and it also has the same plot and sound-alike soundtrack as Jaws as well!

A National Park in Somewhere, U.S.A. is home to Chief Ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George), an amiable kinda guy who learns (horrors!!) that two female campers were viciously killed by a bear. Acting swiftly, Kelly mobilizes his trusty rangers to find this animal as he woos visiting photographer, Allison Corwin (Joan McCall) who wants to tag along. As the body count increases, nasty park supervisor Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey) blames Kelly for the attacks, so Kelly calls for help; an animal naturalist named Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel). Scott informs Kelly that this killer bear is a 12-ft tall, 2000lb grizzly that may be (are you sitting down?) over 1000 years old! I think this guy’s been in the woods too long!

Anyway, more people die and Kittridge puts a bounty on the bear’s head which brings out a bunch of dumb hunters. However, this ravenous bear is super-stealthy and kills without anyone ever seeing it coming! Scott sets a trap for the bear which fails (it’s a ninja bear, apparently). As he dies, Kelly decides that using a bazooka might stop this beast! Thankfully, it does! LOL! If you’ve seen Jaws (and who hasn’t?) this movie literally hits the same beats, scene by scene. It’s as if screenwriters Harvey Flaxman (Preacherman) and David Sheldon (Grizzly II: Revenge) just copied ‘n’ pasted the Jaws script, changed the location and the creature, and wallah! It’s the same movie!

Despite a critical thrashing, this $750K budget movie made an amazing $38 million and spawned a bizarre, strange sequel that was never completed until a bootleg version surfaced in 2020. Director William Girdler (Three on a Meathook, The Manitou) does what he can on a tight budget and only filmed a real bear towards the end, using fake puppet bear arms to simulate attacks early on. It’s campy, cheesy, laughable, completely silly, filled with lots of 70’s bright-red gore effects, and some really bad acting. Only veteran actors George and Jaeckel are any good. Oh, and look for 1977’s Penthouse Pet of the Year, Victoria Lynn Johnson as Ranger Gail who, in one scene, strips down to her underwear and gets killed by the bear because, of course she does! LOL!!

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