Maybe you’ve heard the tale of the “Bluegrass Conspiracy” and the Cocaine Bear, or maybe you haven’t. But anybody who is familiar with the story will tell you on the spot that the subject matter has been ripe to tell in cinematic form for decades. That is why when we heard that Elizabeth Banks, known for her role in The Hunger Games, was directing a movie based on the story for Universal Pictures, it was reason for excitement.
The story is so complex that it’s hard to give a proper summation, but long story short, a crooked cop from blue blood Kentucky society turned into a drug smuggling kingpen and ended up parachuting to his death when he loaded down a private plane with too much cocaine. Some of the precious cargo also ended up getting dumped into a Georgia forest, where a black bear happened upon it, and reportedly consumed some 40 bags of the white powder before succumbing to overdose.
If you want to hear the full story, it’s the subject of Country History X episode #6, which can be read at that link, heard on your podcast network of choice, or via the YouTube player below. The episode was composed in part in anticipation of the new Cocaine Bear movie.
However, this movie is not what a lot of people were expecting when they heard that author Sally Denton’s book The Bluegrass Conspiracy: An Inside Story of Power, Greed, Drugs & Murder was being referenced to make a movie, at least judging from the trailer for the movie, and the description that accompanies it. The film could have been like a Kentucky version of the film Blow from 2001 starring Johnny Depp, which despite the racy title ultimately told a very human story.
Instead, Cocaine Bear appears a comedic horror flick with a CGI bear running through the woods terrorizing hikers, while the more captivating details of The Bluegrass Conspiracy are left on the sidelines. The movie appears to be just a succession of canned one liners looking to split sides and string together a flimsy premise because making an actual movie about this story would be too hard. Cocaine Bear looks basically like just a step up from Sharknado.
This is not to say that the film might not be good fun for a certain audience. But this feels like a big miss of an opportunity to take a compelling true story and make something of value and intrigue from it. The actual cocaine bear never ran through the woods terrorizing anyone. It was just an interesting side note to the story. Whether the film will even get to the rumored ownership of the Cocaine Bear in taxidermist form by Waylon Jennings, or how it ended up in the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, we’ll still have to see.
The country music ties to the Bluegrass Conspiracy and the Cocaine Bear were loose to begin with. But with the way Kentucky is churning out revolutionary country performers these days, it could have made for a cool backdrop and soundtrack to an intriguing film. Perhaps Cocaine Bear will still be good for a laugh or two though.
The film premiers on February 24th, 2023 in theaters.