“COCAINE BEAR”
Starring Keri Russell, Christian Convery, Brooklyn Prince, Ray Liotta
Written by Jimmy Warden
Directed by Elizabeth Banks

By Matt Neufeld
Feb. 23, 2023

Is the new movie “Cocaine Bear” really as all-out, flat-out, point-blank, sure-as-I’m-sittin-here stupid, dumb, moronic, idiotic and grade-Z awful, terrible and just plain bad? Does a bear defecate in the woods?

Just so we’re clear: The answers are yes.

“Cocaine Bear” is so bad, at every level–it’s badly-produced, badly-directed, very badly-written and very badly acted–this moronic muddled mess of a mistake of a movie should just simply be ignored and instantly tossed to the trash heap to rot in filmic hell along with this season’s other putrid piles of rancid rubbish—-“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “Knock at the Cabin” and “M3GAN.”

“Cocaine Bear,” dare it be said, is simply unbearable. There, we said it.

The problems with this grossly violent, horribly and wholly unnecessarily gorily violent, gratuitously violent and violently clueless movie start with the project’s initial, idiotically complete failure to capitalize on the story’s original real-life story. The movie is very loosely based on the origin story, but the movie’s inception and overall production is so incredibly dumb, the head-in-the-sand filmmakers somehow failed to understand just how that original origin story could have made, well, a good, clever, interesting and entertaining story and movie.

Instead, the filmmakers took that original story, tossed aside nearly all of its more interesting aspects and story lines and plot lines and back stories and background and characterizations and characters and messages and humor and drama and instead stupidly made a gorefest, splatterfest, graphic, violent slasher movie in which a huge, ugly, drooling bear coked up on cocaine runs around the woods violently killing, eating and dismembering unlikeable, dumb people.

Really, that’s all and most of what “Cocaine Bear” is—yet another dumb, gross, disgusting, stomach-churning, horribly violent slasher movie. However, this movie is not scary, frightening, tense, suspenseful, mysterious, ghoulish or spooky in any way. The movie fails as a horror film. The movie also fails as a suspense film and the movie fails as a chiller thriller monster movie.

It’s also not funny, which some folks would expect from a movie titled “Cocaine Bear.” However, the movie completely fails on every level in terms of comedy–writing, jokes, gags, slapstick, set-ups, punchlines, kickers, pacing, timing, camera shots, dialogue, acting, comedic ability in terms of acting and writing, and just about every other element we know as actual, funny, humorous humor. The movie fails as a comedic film.

So if “Cocaine Bear,” a movie about a black bear in the Appalachian Mountains that stumbles upon some discarded bricks of cocaine, gets high and then goes on a rampage and kills and eats people, isn’t scary, suspenseful, chilling, thrilling or funny–or interesting or entertaining –then what is it? As it turns out, “Cocaine Bear” isn’t really much of anything, and the failed project ends up leaving the viewer as empty and unfulfilled as going on an all-night cocaine bender at some plastic party with plastic people.

The real story–and the real lost opportunity–is that real-life origin story. The following story is true, and no names have been changed to protect the guilty.

According to The Washington Post, Time, The New York Times, Fly By Night and The Lexington Herald-Leader, a most interesting and fascinating man named Andrew Carter Thornton II was flying in a Cessna small plane–and smuggling literally millions of dollars worth of cocaine–one night in September, 1985, and he and a smuggling cohort put the plane on auto pilot, put on parachutes, abruptly dumped bags and bags of cocaine worth millions out of the plane and down into the Georgia forests below–and then parachuted out of the plane. Thornton got caught up in his parachute, went into a free fall–and smashed into the driveway of a home in Knoxville. He was killed. Thornton was 40 years old. The plane crashed sixty miles away in North Carolina.

Meanwhile, three weeks later, a black bear was found dead in the woods in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Much like Thornton, the black bear was quite dead, too. The bear apparently overdosed after helping itself to some of the cocaine that Thornton and his partner in stupid crime had dumped from their plane. The bear did not go on a rampage. The bear did not attack, kill, dismember or eat any people. In fact, the bear was taxidermied, or stuffed, and the animal sits today at a souvenir, memorabilia and novelty store in Lexington.

But wait, there’s more! According to those news stories, Thornton was not your average, everyday, 1980s two-bit, low-level, street-level coke smuggler. Get this, and this is quite real: Thornton was one of the leaders of a drug smuggling ring in Kentucky called The Company. Really. But you have to hear, and believe, the rest of his life story, the background story telling about his life before he decided that life could be better as a coke smuggler.

Thornton grew up in a blue-blood, silver-spoon, well-off, rich family in the Lexington area. He attended a private school, two colleges and law school. He received his undergraduate degree in 1971–in law enforcement. He received his law degree in 1976. Thornton joined the U.S. Army, he was a paratrooper–and he received a Purple Heart. He trained race horses for his father–who ran a stud farm. And–are you with me so far?–Thornton worked as a narcotics officer with the Louisville Police Department and he worked on narcotics investigations with the Louisville office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Really.

According to Time, Thornton and other smugglers would dump their cocaine from their small planes and find them later in predetermined drop zones using radio signals, infrared markers and night-vision goggles. Really. The small planes were just collateral damage–small potatoes compared to the millions of dollars that the cocaine was worth. Thornton was said to have had an Army duffel bag strapped to his body containing $15 million worth of cocaine–that’s fifteen million dollars to you and me–when he was found, unceremoniously, flattened to death in that poor Knoxville homeowner’s driveway.

And Thornton was alleged and suspected of being connected to another alleged crooked cop and a female informant who famously disappeared and is believed to have been murdered.

All of this is true, according to the various news reports. But there’s even more.

A thorough, in-depth investigative story about Thornton, other corrupt cops, other drug smugglers and Kentucky-area drug smuggling was told in the acclaimed book “The Bluegrass Conspiracy” by the respected investigative reporter, author, historian and professor Sally Denton. Denton’s book, which covered the jet-setter, life-in-the-fast-lane life of the crazed Thornton and his other corrupt cronies in Kentucky law enforcement, government, politics and business, blew the lid, top, cover and protection off of Kentucky’s entrenched, corrupt, power-mad and insane good-ol’-boy network. The book brought to the surface previously-hidden, covered-up corruption throughout the bluegrass state. Among Denton’s impressive journalism background is working for investigative journalist Jack Anderson from 1978 to 1980.

Wow–all of that real-life history and background and stories about Thornton sound like a great story for——–a great dramatic political action adventure thriller movie! Yet absolutely none of this is in the insipid “Cocaine Bear.” Imagine, just imagine, what Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma or Guy Ritchie or a hundred other directors could do with the actual, real-life story. And “The Bluegrass Conspiracy” would be the perfect title. And hire Sally Denton as a co-producer, co-writer and technical consultant, and we’re off and running, around the curve and into the home stretch with a great movie.

Instead, we have the stupid, moronic “Cocaine Bear,” which, by the way, features a scene where two kids about 12-years-old cut open a brick of cocaine and shovel a spoonful of the very dangerous narcotic into their mouths. Is that funny? No. Is a bear biting off a young, beautiful woman’s leg in front of her fiance funny? Is someone getting decapitated ever funny? Is a street drug dealer getting two fingers shot off their hand funny? Is a police detective getting shot to death by a two-bit, low-life drug smuggler funny? Is a park ranger getting killed by falling out of an ambulance funny? No. None of this is funny. It’s just gross, disturbingly violent and dumb.

Now, think, yet again, of the great tale of tragedy, intrigue, corruption, political scandal and action-adventure that could have been told. It’s a great wasted opportunity.

I called the Kentucky for Kentucky souvenir store in Lexington on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. A store employee there told me that the actual, real stuffed bear that was found dead from apparently overdosing on some of Thornton’s discarded 1985 cocaine is proudly on display at the shop. The bear has its own interesting history. The bear was bought and sold by several people though the last thirty-eight years–including being bought at one time by Waylon Jennings–and the stuffed animal ended up back home in Kentucky at the store.

Here’s a great, fun suggestion: A vacation road trip through all the various sites involved in the real-life story of the crazy Thornton, his corrupt cocaine cronies and the poor overdosed, now-stuffed-and-displayed black bear would be one heck of a hootenanny good ol’ time trip trek through the Appalachians. That time trip road trip, accompanied by the appropriate songs by Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Styx and others, and with Sally Denton’s book as a helpful guide, would be far more interesting, insightful, fun and entertaining than any dumb movie being dumped into movie theaters on the last weekend of February, 2023.

And while you’re traveling those mountain back roads, Casey Jones–watch your speed.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.