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CINEMASCOPE: TARGETED MISS

February 10, 2019

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I still remember Miss Bala. It was a Mexican crime drama from 2011, loosely based on real events about a beauty queen who got involved with the drug cartel. The critically acclaimed film had its shortcomings, but was overall an engaging piece of cinema with enough grit, darkness and realism to send chills down your spine. Certainly, it didn’t need a remake, not while the original film was still relevant, and certainly it didn’t deserve the Hollywood treatment.

The first thing you should know about this remake by Catherine Hardwicke is that its director made Twilight (2008). If you are still reading, you should also know that this reimagining is as much of a Hollywood cliché as you can get. No longer is it a drama, but an action/thriller where the sharpness has been blunted for mass market appeal and the grit has been softened for the film to qualify for a PG rating.

Miss Bala tells the story of Gloria Fuentes (Gina Rodriguez), a wide-eyed, kind-hearted make-up artist from L.A. who is in Mexico to see her sister-like friend Suzu Ramós (Cristina Rodlo). The two friends are at a night club when Gloria decides she needs to go to the washroom. Here, armed men from the Las Estrellas gang break through, sparing Gloria, but shooting up the place. When Gloria tries to track down her friend the next day with the help of the police, she is captured by the same gang.

Gina Rodriguez is a fine actor but her versatility is lost on an unnecessary and clichéd Hollywood remake

Soon, she is roped into serving them. Their charming, if somewhat inept, leader Lino Esparza (Ismael Cruz Córdova) has her doing dirty deeds for them, and the two develop a weird sort of relationship. When Gloria tries to escape, she is pushed back into the mess by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who seek vengeance after their safe house is destroyed and agents are killed. Caught between the aggressive DEA, the dangerous crime lords and the corrupt police, Gloria embraces the film’s title (Miss Bullet), inexplicably turning into a one-woman killing machine.

Admittedly, for a film that took R-rated material and adapted it into PG-13, Miss Bala offers some grit and complexity, especially when compared to other such popcorn films. But it was the third act that lost me completely, when the film went from Sicario to Rambo II mode, with Gloria kicking rears and taking names despite having had very little training with a firearm. Sure, she looked good while doing it, but it certainly stole what little tension the narrative offered.

When Gloria tries to escape, she is pushed back into the mess by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who seek vengeance after their safe house is destroyed and agents are killed. Caught between the aggressive DEA, the dangerous crime lords and the corrupt police, Gloria embraces the film’s title (Miss Bullet), inexplicably turning into a one-woman killing machine.

Usually, I am all about films that feature female empowerment, but something about the way Miss Bala did it felt insincere and exploitative. It was as if the powers that be were more interested in cashing in on a global trend by using lazy tropes rather than genuinely showcasing a strong female character.

That the storytelling is so unimpressive is a shame, because Gina Rodriguez is a fine actor destined for cinematic stardom. In the comedic drama Jane the Virgin she consistently displays a vast emotional range, and in scary Annihilation she proved she can handle just about any role. In Miss Bala she is strong, menacing, yet also vulnerable when needed. Her performance is more than the film’s script deserved.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, sexual and drug content, and thematic material

Published in Dawn, ICON, February 10th, 2019