Miss Bala Movie Review
The 2011 original action film was loosely based on a real-life incident about a beauty pageant winner who was suspected of having gang connections, and the whole film was set in Mexico because that’s where the incident happened, too.
This 2019 remake, however, took liberties in their own interpretation by making the protagonist, Gloria Fuentes, an American citizen who’s based in Los Angeles but goes back once in a while to Tijuana, Mexico to visit her friend named Suzu. Latina TV star Gina Rodriguez played Gloria, a huge departure from her usual comedic role in her famed sitcom.
So can she carry the weight of a film? Definitely so. Rodriguez is very effective in undergoing all the emotions needed for this story. Her character gets caught up unexpectedly in a gang-related incident when she went to visit her friend Suzu in Tijuana.
She wanted to help her friend who’s joining a beauty pageant there. Since she’s a professional make-up artist, Gloria came in to assist her and to cheer her friend on.
Trouble started for the two when they went clubbing to hopefully get the attention of an influential officer who’s also connected with the pageant somewhat. However, a notorious gang enters the club and wreaks havoc, separating Gloria from Suzu.
The aftermath of the club violence resulted in the disappearance of Suzu, resulting in Gloria’s desperation in finding her friend. But during her pursuit, she accidentally teamed up with a gang member, and she was brought to their leader, Lino. He promised to use his connections to find Suzu, but only if Gloria did some favors for him.
The reluctant Gloria soon found herself running smuggling errands across the US border from Mexico to California. Since she’s a US citizen and she’s not being suspected, she got away with a few errands. Lino had her run a few more errands, even teaching her how to shoot a sophisticated assault weapon, and Gloria just went along for the ride.
However, unknown to Lino, Gloria was also picked up by a US Drug Enforcement Agency officer during one of her errands. The DEA officer tried to implicate that Gloria is really with the gang, and also had her run counter-errands that will help them entrap Lino and the gang. The DEA officer promised to help her out of the situation once they get Lino’s head.
All this time, Gloria is unsure of where her loyalties should lie. She tried following the DEA’s ploy but, during a crucial shootout, she found out that the DEA officer didn’t really intend to help her out of her situation with Lino. So she ends up teaming up with Lino and the gang instead, still biding time until she thinks of the next best way to find her missing friend.
Lino’s last errand for Gina is to have her join the beauty pageant where they will rig the contest so she will win. When she wins, she will have the chance to meet with the chief of police. Lino wants to assassinate this chief, and Gloria would be their way to get close to him. Gloria plays along with this scheme since Lino was able to show her proof that Suzu is still alive and they found her whereabouts.
After winning the contest, though, Gloria also finds where Suzu is. It turns out that Suzu was abducted by Lino’s gang and was used as a way to manipulate Gloria. So Gloria finally smartens up and secretly warns the police chief about the impending ambush on him. A shootout indeed happens between the gang and the police. Lino kills the corrupt police chief, but Gloria kills Lino in the process.
As you can detect from the action-loaded storyline, the action scenes here are also very bombastic and sometimes over the top. Everyone you expect to act as the bad guy does their job, in a cardboard cutout way. Sadly, it’s the same for the innocent bystander who turns into a fighter later on.
Gloria later becomes hardened and toughened by the circumstances that Lino put her through, so much so that the CIA wanted to recruit her toward the end. CIA? Yes, they’re also there! As it turned out, Lino’s US contact, an American arms dealer, was a secret CIA agent, posing to get into Lino’s world. This CIA agent was played by The Avengers star Anthony Mackie.
Gina Rodriguez can carry a film all right, but Catherine Hardwicke’s direction feels so unsure about whether she wants to make her star an action heroine or not. She just lets Rodriguez run the gamut of emotions needed for the scene, something the Latina star is already good at. But Hardwicke somewhat missed the chance of developing Rodriguez as a potential action star in this film.
Sure, Gloria holds a gun and tries to shoot, and indeed shoots the gang leader later on. But it’s still such a small window to the missed potential. It’s obvious that Rodriguez can hack it, and is very ready to head towards that direction.
The story and the direction didn’t really fully explore this option for her. Maybe that’s the reason why this remake got very low scores with film critics and didn’t earn much at the box office upon its release.
But it was still an enjoyable watch, overall. The scenes are pretty much predictable, yet you hold on to the narrative because, like the clueless Gloria, you’re curious to see where this will all lead. And even if you have that feeling that things will turn out fine anyway, you still take the plunge with them and ride.
It’s all because of Rodriguez’ innocent charm in portraying Gloria earnestly. For that, she’s indeed a promising film star. Hopefully, she can become an action star to boot, too. Maybe in another project, let’s see.