Review: Miss Bala

Score:  C-

Director:  Catherine Hardwicke

Cast:  Gina Rodriguez, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Anthony Mackie, Matt Lauria

Running Time:  104 Minutes

Rated:  PG-13

It's a pretty bold move for a major release to have neither style nor substance, but not even the enchanting presence of Gina Rodriguez can keep this unnecessary remake from its own stupidity.

Giving us only one scene of character development – handled in a cliché scene where her boss literally tells her "I'm not paying you to think" – before whisking her away to Tijuana, Miss Bala gets straight to its poorly executed action. When gunmen shoot up the club where Gloria and her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) are schmoozing with beauty pageant sponsors, they're separated.

An absolutely preposterous set of circumstances force Gloria to work for both the cartel and the DEA. Both groups blackmail her and promise to help her find Suzu, but nearly every scene relies on Gloria being the most gullible person alive. It's also absurd that she's constantly amazed at how violent the drug cartel is. When a hitman's girlfriend is ID'd as a mole, she is somehow stunned that they would kill her.

The film really has nothing to say about the failed drug war that hasn't been said before. The cartels are bad but American and Mexican law enforcement might be worse! Imagine! There's also a serious lack of stakes in this PG-13 movie. Dozens upon dozens of people are shot and killed but there's nary a drop of blood.

About the only positive moments are the occasional darkly funny punchline. After Gloria inadvertently helps the cartel blow up a DEA safe house, three goons take a selfie up the hill above the rubble. And when she witnesses a murder, she vomits over a balcony and some of it gets stuck in her hair. But why the film wants to set up a will they/won't they relationship with Gloria and Lino, the head of the cartel (Ismael Cruz Cordova), is beyond me. Still, it does lead to the film's best scene: a date where Lino takes her to a roadside restaurant for some authentic barbacoa. The film finally pauses for some shading of the characters. But it's too little, too late.

Miss Bala is a series of wrong choices, starting with remaking it in the first place. Gina Rodriguez is a star. She deserves a better showcase.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.