Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Anthony Mackie, Aislinn Derbez
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Miss Bala is what happens when you take a cup of uninspired remake material, a pinch of political commentary on America’s gun and racial tensions, and a splash of Stockholm Syndrome to make a movie that will hopefully just make its budget back and fade away into obscurity. I didn’t have super high expectations for this movie, as I think everyone knew this would be a pretty generic movie, but the fact that the original Mexican version was significantly more well-received means there was a better, more interesting film buried somewhere in this movie. While Rodriguez is solid in the lead role and the sound mixing was pretty well-done, a lack of any character development and a strange set of tones prevent Miss Bala from being anything other than a generic February release.
The film follows Gloria (Rodriguez), an American makeup artist who is visiting her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) in Tijuana to support her as Suzu enters the Miss Baja California pageant. When the nightclub they are visiting gets attacked by a local cartel and Suzu goes missing, Gloria does whatever she can to reunite with her friend. Despite this movie’s flaws, Rodriguez gives a very convincing and believable performance in the lead role. I don’t think the script gave her a whole lot to work with, but Gloria is the only character that has any sort of character arc and development, and Rodriguez is one of the only reasons why we care about her character. As the movie progresses, we see a woman who goes from completely out her element and fearing for her life to someone who will stop at nothing to survive and to rescue her friend and this is a testament to how Rodriquez can handle a role like this. Outside of Rodriguez, one of the surprising elements was just how accurately load the guns in this movie were. Maybe this was because I saw this film on a Dolby screen, but when Gloria shoots a gun for the first time, the whole theater rattled like it would if a real gun was fired. They could’ve gone with a traditional film half measure of inserting a muted, film-acceptable gunshot much to dismay of gun enthusiasts, but the fact that this film made more of an attempt to be realistic on that end is admirable. Speaking of the guns, this is just one of the few themes that is discussed in this movie that really has no place in the environment that is created here. Regarding guns, when Lino (Cordova) brings Gloria her first gun, he makes sure to say that it’s an, “American-made AR-15,” a clear reference to the school shooting debate in the United States and this movie seems to convey the point that the bad guys use these guns and you shouldn’t use them. On top of this, there seems to be commentary on Donald Trump’s immigration policy as Gloria’s interactions with the all-white DEA end up in her being generalized without getting a fair shake and referring to other DEA agents as, “real-Americans.” Now, do these topics need to be discussed with the general public at some point? Absolutely, but this isn’t the place to do that. People didn’t come into this movie to have an open-minded view on these issues and probably just wanted to see Rodriguez face the issues handed to her. By introducing real-life issues to a fictional story, you remove the audience from their environment and talk about things in a forum where nobody is ready to have that discussion. I could give all of these issues a pass if the movie just did one important thing well and that’s creating a world where we care about the outcome of the story. As mentioned earlier, Gloria gets a relatively flushed out plotline that is more or less serviceable for a movie like this. I see a foundation for competent characters to be written, but the film never went far enough with the details that matter. Lino and Gloria are both Americans with very different ties to Tijuana, but Lino’s evolution to drug kingpin of Tijuana is never really dissected and we never know why he would want to leave Bakersfield for a life like this. In a different scene, tensions between Lino and Pollo (Ricardo Abarca) mount as police begin to close in their operation, but once again this relationship is never developed and is there merely for petty drama in the first two acts of the movie. If this movie had something more than cardboard cutouts for characters, it honestly could’ve been pretty interesting, but the choice to be generic severely hurts this movie in a way where it can’t recover.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the last few performances that Rodriguez has given and she’s clearly not the problem here. I’m guessing she’s got paid a decent amount of money for this film so she’ll get to cash in on her popularity before hopefully going back to something more critically acclaimed. Miss Bala will move out of our lives just as soon as it came in and hopefully Rodriguez has a return to form sooner rather than later.
Overall Score: 3.5/10