Gina Rodriguez portrays Mexican-American Gloria, visiting her childhood best friend in Tijuana when a cartel shootout separates the two and puts Gloria in the crosshairs of both the DEA and the local gangs. In order to track her friend down, Gloria must navigate the ranks of the Cartel and enter the Miss Baja beauty pageant where she is led to believe she will find answers regarding where her friend is being trafficked.
In long form, I could ramble on about how “Miss Bala” is a remake of sorts of the 2011 Mexican film of the same name loosely based on an actual incident involving a beauty queen at the wrong place at the wrong time. All that really is worth saying about “Miss Bala” however is that it’s highlights will make a sufficient demo reel for the lovely Gina Rodriguez’s transition to leading lady/action star status if she so chooses. Everything else is disposable at best and terminally dull and wrongheaded at worst.
Where the original film embraced its gritty nature to tell a smaller story of personal tragedy reflective of the force of nature that Cartel conflict can represent, the 2019 American-produced version strips the subtext and hones in on the typical thriller and procedural genre trappings without really completing the fleshed out arc of a human story, which is spared from dipping across the line of feeding into horrendously offensive xenophobia primarily due to just how lifeless the whole production feels.
Rodriguez definitely holds her own as best she can but the screenplay fails miserably to provide her with any sort of true agency, turning the whole plot into a tedious conga line of misfortune that’s supposed to be buoyed by questions of grey morality that don’t stick because none of the men Gloria is held hostage by are particularly charismatic.
Add in the noticeable sanitizing of its subject matter’s grossness and complexities and you’re left with a movie that lacks human resonance yet relies too heavily on tension and drama to propel things forward at its plodding pace, meaning the movie isn’t even unapologetically stylish or sleazy enough to overcome its narrative shortcomings .
While it’s a shame to see Rodriguez’s talent wasted and a superior original text watered down and bastardized, the only thing holding me back from being angry at “Miss Bala” is that it’s so lacking in any sort of memorability — good, bad or otherwise — I’ll have forgotten it a few days from now.
2 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.