“Miss Bala” isn’t terrible, as movies released at this time of year tend to be. But you watch it wishing it were something else, and looking forward to seeing Gina Rodriguez shine in something better. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
You see Gina Rodriguez’s infectious, light-up-the-sky smile only a couple of times in “Miss Bala,” and it’s just enough to make you wish that she were in a different movie. A remake of an acclaimed 2011 Mexican film of the same title, the film casts Rodriguez as Gloria Fuentes, a young Los Angeles makeup artist who travels to Tijuana to help her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) compete in a beauty pageant. Minutes into the film, the two women go to a party that gets infiltrated by a criminal organization — and just like that, Suzu gets kidnapped. Gloria, desperate to find her, becomes a pawn between the worlds of law enforcement and cross-border crime; both of which, in this case, are corrupt.
It’s a fairly rote premise for a movie, and director Catherine Hardwicke makes from it a fairly rote movie. (Worth noting here, for those following the ongoing story of female filmmakers’ underrepresentation in Hollywood: The talented Hardwicke — who debuted with the searing “Thirteen” and directed the only decent “Twilight” movie — hasn’t made a feature film in four years.) While it’s refreshing to see a Latina woman as an action hero, you wish Gloria was a more fully fleshed character. Rodriguez gamely runs in heels, handles guns, and expresses fear, bewilderment and determination, but the character as written is curiously passive — things happen to her, and she reacts. We don’t get much of a sense of who Gloria is before the action starts, and we don’t after, either. If the action were truly thrilling, this wouldn’t matter — but it isn’t.
“Miss Bala” isn’t terrible, as movies released at this time of year tend to be; Rodriguez does just enough to keep things mildly interesting, particularly a fleeting moment near the end where Gloria’s required to fake an emotion. (Rodriguez does it the way Gloria would do it — i.e. not very well — but doesn’t overplay things; it’s an elegantly layered bit.) But you watch it wishing it were something else, and looking forward to seeing Rodriguez shine in something better.
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★★ “Miss Bala,” with Gina Rodriguez, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Aislinn Derbez, Matt Lauria, Cristina Rodlo, Anthony Mackie. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, from a screenplay by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, based on the Spanish-language film of the same title. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, sexual and drug content, thematic material and language. Opens Feb. 1 at multiple theaters.