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Released in 2011, Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala is a solid film with an obvious significant fault: its protagonist is little more than a pawn. A character without any legitimate agency, she basically goes through the entire plot at the instruction of others – albeit because her life is threatened through the majority of the movie. The whole thing still works well enough at the end of the day, buoyed by the strength of tension and action, but it’s also the dictionary definition of a nagging flaw.
Fortunately, one of the best things about remakes is the possibility of fixing those issues with 20/20 hindsight, and Catherine Hardwicke’s Miss Bala operates well in that arena – while still creating a movie that also has its own set of issues. The good news, though, is that much like its predecessor, its positives eventually outweigh the negatives, and make the new movie a passable option for a weekend night out.
Written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, the story centers on Gloria (Gina Rodriguez), a young Mexican-American make-up artist who travels south of the border to try and help her friend, Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), win a local beauty pageant. It’s a fun trip, until a night out at a club sees the experience turn nightmarish when she becomes witness to an assassination attempt. Not only does Gloria lose Suzu in the resulting chaos, but the morning after, she too is kidnapped when she attempts to reach out to the authorities.
The criminals are led by a man named Lino (Ismael Cruz Córdova), and not only does he take Gloria as a hostage, but he puts her to work – getting her to unknowingly position explosives in hits against rivals, and mule cash into America. Though Lino promises her that cooperating is the only way she will see Suzu again, insisting that he’s not the real bad guy in the grand scheme, she tries to form an exit strategy that will not only save her, but the lives of those she cares about.
On top of the fact that the movie is a remake, the story here isn’t exactly the freshest take, as we’ve seen many variations of it over the years, but what particularly sells Miss Bala in this case is Gina Rodriguez – a really fantastic rising star who is starting to solidify her presence in the big screen world. Unlike Stephanie Sigman’s Laura in the original, Gloria doesn’t see complicity as the primary path to survival, and you can always see Gloria’s brain working behind her eyes as she calculates her options and makes crucial decisions. Often it’s a choice between the lesser of two evils (or death), and it’s frequent that the choices have dire and sometimes fatal consequences, but it’s all an affecting ride through which Rodriguez makes a strong emotional surrogate for the audience.
Gina Rodriguez’s presence does a lot to elevate the material, and it does solve the key problem of the original Miss Bala – but at the same time it’s not like the 2011 was a five star feature beyond that issue, and this new one has many of the same drawbacks… and a couple of its own thrown in for good measure. In addition to the larger story not adding much to the catalogue of similar features we’ve seen, the movie finds itself navigating through murky waters with its relationship between Gloria and Lino. Throughout the film, there exists a strange chemistry between the characters that really shouldn’t be there, and while the movie ultimately makes the right calls before the end, it has the effect of muddling things as you’re taking the ride.
Miss Bala is elevated by some tense action scenes, a couple interesting twists, and, most significantly, a great lead turn from Gina Rodriguez – but other than that there isn’t a great deal more to say. With a proper and well-formed vision it could perhaps become the start of a franchise that it clearly wants to kick start, however, this is also a situation where money is going to dictate that future more than tremendous quality. It’s a serviceable thriller, and if it leads to more interesting work for its lead all the better.