Tuesday 5 January 2021

Movie Review: Miss Bala (2019)

An action movie set in the world of violent Mexican drug cartels, Miss Bala features an interesting enough protagonist but otherwise barely rises to routine levels.

Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) is a Los Angeles-based make-up artist. She visits Tijuana to help her friend Suzu prepare for a beauty pageant funded by corrupt police chief Saucedo. A violent drug cartel under the leadership of Lino (Ismael Cruz Córdova) attempts a hit on Saucedo, and in the ensuing melee Gloria is separated from Suzu and captured by Lino.

Lino takes a liking to Gloria, and on the pretext he will help her find Suzu, presses her into service for the cartel. First she inadvertently participates in a bombing, then is forced to cross into the US to deliver a drug shipment to gang boss Jimmy (Anthony Mackie), returning to Mexico with crates full of guns. With the Drug Enforcement Agency circling, Gloria has to play a dangerous game to stay alive and try to find her missing friend.

A remake of a 2011 Mexican movie, Miss Bala struggles to justify itself. The central character of Gloria as a feisty make-up artist who discovers the killer within is mildly intriguing in a far-fetched way, but director Catherine Hardwicke otherwise defaults to recycling well-worn elements. The film often resembles a glorified television serial overrun by greasy neck-tattooed villains spouting vapid dialogue. 

The three let-the-bullets-fly action scenes occur at a nightclub, an abandoned bull ring and a swanky villa, and predictably arrive at the start, middle and end. All three are sanitized, bloodless and goreless affairs lacking grit and conviction, and poorly edited to boot.

Gina Rodriguez pouts her way through the movie, finding a groove and sticking to it as a seething victim surprising herself with on-the-fly bobbing and weaving to survive another day. Ismael Cruz Córdova never finds his footing as Lino, the gang leader with a soft spot for his latest captive landing somewhere between street thug stereotype, wannabe victim of circumstance, and awkward romanticist.

Hardwicke elevates the climax to mythical angel-of-vengeance territory, with cool staging of Rodriguez in a fetching red dress finally taking her turn to unleash her balas. Hell hath no fury like a woman trapped in a mediocre movie.

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