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film review

Gina Rodriguez stars in Miss Bala.Gregory Smith/Sony Pictures

  • Miss Bala
  • Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
  • Written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
  • Starring Gina Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie and Ismael Cruz Cordova
  • Classification PG; 104 minutes


1 out of 4 stars

If, when watching Gerardo Naranjo’s Cannes-programmed Miss Bala, you thought to yourself, “I wish this movie was more obvious,” then Catherine Hardwicke’s flashy American studio remake of the 2011 Mexican thriller of the same name might just be for you. Because, really, who else could a film this unoriginal be for?

Black Twitter favourite Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) stands atop the hollow bore of 2019’s Miss Bala as Gloria Fuentes, a Mexican-American makeup artist who is abducted by a drug cartel after a shootout in a Tijuana nightclub. Originally in town to help her best friend Suzu prepare for a beauty pageant (the repeated-almost-to-the-point-of-parody “Miss Baja California”), Gloria instead finds herself caught somewhere between the corrupt local authorities, the DEA and the Las Estrellas cartel as she fights to be reunited with her also-kidnapped friend.

Rather than the mindless entertainment many of us (rightfully) rely on to distract us from this hellscape of a world, Miss Bala is more unthinking than it is welcome digression. The film’s story twists and pivots upon plot points that surely take no one by surprise and that reveal its inner machinations to be just plain dumb. At one point, Lino Esparaza (Ismael Cruz Cordova), the head of Las Estrellas and Gloria’s closest point of contact within the cartel, tries to placate Fuentes by assuring her that he has his “IT guy” working on figuring out Suzu’s location. I’m not one to doubt the organizational intelligence of a transnational drug cartel, but lines like these work better as comic relief than in favour of the high-octane thrill ride that the film is trying hard (or perhaps, hardly trying) to offer.

In a film full of cliché, there is perhaps nothing more groan-inducing in Miss Bala than its confused pseudo-sexual relationship between Gloria and Lino. Twilight alum Hardwicke is no stranger to blurring the lines between lust and trauma, and here, the thriller’s play-all-sides ethos reveals itself to be more surface than substance. The film gets so caught up in asking “will they or won’t they?” that it seems to forget it has to give us a reason (outside of sultry shots of a half-naked Cordova) to care in the first place.

If one were to point to just one problem with Miss Bala, that would surely be it – the film runs us through stock types and figurations with little concern for the fact that it has to form its own shape outside of these overused tropes and storytelling devices. It’s as if the film has boiled down every post-2000s action thriller into its own particularly unseasoned, overcooked and tasteless dish.

Hardwicke brings what, at this point, some might say is her signature directorial heavy-handedness to the film, guiding its senseless flow of action more like a three-episode arc of 24 than establishing anything resembling self-determined narrative substance. In its entirety, Miss Bala seems to exist merely for one shot near its end: Rodriguez strutting in slow-motion across the screen while wearing an evening gown and brandishing an assault rifle. And while yes, she does look bad-ass, there’s no way in hell it makes up for the film’s preceding 90 minutes of patchy plotting and lifeless writing. That’s what GIFs are for.

Miss Bala opens Feb. 1.

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