Based on a Spanish-language film from Mexico of the same-name “Miss Bala” is an updated, feminist take on the original movie. “In the end,” says Gloria (“Jane the Virgin’s” Gina Rodriguez), “the bullet settles everything.”
Rodriguez plays a young American woman who goes to Tijuana to help her best friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) prepare to enter the Miss Baja California beauty pageant. After witnessing a brutal gangland nightclub slaying Suzu disappears and Gloria kidnapped by a drug cartel. In exchange for her safety and help in finding Suzu, Gloria reluctantly agrees to smuggle cartel drug money through the Mexico-USA border. “I can help you find your friend,” says charismatic drug boss Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova), but first you have to do something for me. Mess around and I will kill you.”
As she’s learning the ropes—which includes blowing up a DEA safe house—she is intercepted by the DEA. “You have to believe me,” she says. “They made me do it.” Trapped between two fierce opponents she finds herself acting as a double agent, utilizing the skills she learned from the cartel to earn her freedom from both the drug lords and the DEA. “Sometimes you have to do terrible things to survive.”
“Miss Bala” features frequent action sequences and mucho gunplay but is, at best, a by-the-book potboiler that rarely gets above a simmer. There is the tease of real danger in the interactions between Gloria and Lino but nothing that feels authentic. He’s a sensitive psycho who falls for Gloria because she reminds him of an ex-girlfriend and she’s a mild mannered make-up artist whose blood suddenly runs cold. He’s like the Dale Carnegie of drug lords doling out advice—“You need to believe in yourself.” “You need to feel confident.” “Play your part.”—that wouldn’t be out of place in any self help book. She’s a quick learner with a gun and, all of a sudden, an ace shot. In short, the characters are what they need to be in the moment not what they need to be to be well rounded or interesting.
Coming hot on the heels of female led revenge films like Coralie Fargeat’s “Revenge” or Park Chan-wook’s “Lady Vengeance,“ “Miss Bala” feels tame. Worse, its sequel-friendly ending promises more of the same.