Miss Bala [2019] (a film review by Frank Ochieng).

Clearly, enlisting the vivacious actress Gina Rodriguez as an exotic, harried heroine out to kick some Mexican baddie tail in the action and adventure cross-border crime caper ‘Miss Bala‘ was a no-brainer. Gorgeous, gung-ho and gamey, Rodriguez seems like the perfect choice to entice both genders to the box office as they witness her badass beauty self take no prisoners when dealing in the dangerous world of drugs and deviants. Bala translated may mean ‘bullet’ in Spanish but Rodriguez’s gun-toting gumption cannot stop ‘Miss Bala from shooting hysterical blanks all over the place.

Other than the premise of a sexy siren delving into the messiness of a bombastic B-movie highlighting narcotics naughtiness, ‘Miss Bala is nothing more than a frenzied formulaic throwaway of past and superior drug-trafficking dramas that range from ‘Traffic’ to ‘Sicario’. Director Catherine Hardwicke (‘Twilight’) is eager to sensationalize the action-oriented sequences and allow Rodriguez to strut her stuff in a bright red dress looking like she borrowed the wardrobe from a Tijauna cocktail waitress during her late shift. Sadly,

Hardwicke and screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer fail to reinforce genuine intrigue in favor of her leading lady aimlessly mowing down menacing Mexican misfits in a ‘grrrrrrl power’ cliched showcase. Trivial twists, laughable dialogue, forced synthetic tension and a pseudo-feisty feminine fable boasting beauty and brawn but no brains makes ‘Miss Bala an unintentional cockeyed one-woman wrecking crew.

Based on the gripping 2001 Mexican crime thriller, Hardwicke’s paper-thin Tinseltown remake features Rodriguez as California cosmetician Gloria. She ventures to Mexico to offer support to her beauty pageant friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo). However, a complicated shooting from gangsters in a local Tijuana nightclub entangles the pretty pair where Suzu ends up missing and Gloria is ‘claimed’ by one of the crazed shooters Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova) via abduction whom he finds quite fetching. In the meantime, DEA agent Jimmy (Anthony Mackie) is thrown into the mix and hopes to use Gloria as a critical contact within the Mexican drug cartel to expose their insidious activities.

Gina Rodriguez’s gun-toting Gloria is the beauty among the Mexican border beasts in the druggie dud actioner MISS BALA

In fact, poor Gloria finds herself saddled in the middle of the border wars chaos as she cannot trust anyone to rescue her or her missing pal, Suzu. She is pulled apart by different sides that do not seem to have her best interest at hand. Gloria distrusts the corrupt Mexican law enforcement officials, despises the drug smugglers that are fixated on her and disillusioned by the U.S. authorities’ indifference to crack open the drug operation across the border.

Hence, Gloria finds that her methods in handling this whole sordid scenario depends on her own abilities to squash the duplicitous dealings. Apparently, Wonder Woman has nothing on this lethal Latina loose cannon out to settle some scores and clear away the ominous smoke of drug-related debauchery.

Rodriguez, known to the faithful fans of her television series ‘Jane The Virgin’, does have a relatively good time as the curvaceous crusader out to make mincemeat out of the manly monsters co-signing the criminal mayhem at large. This is certainly a vehicle where Rodriguez can let loose and show off her estrogen muscle in a down-grade drug drama. It is too bad that this toothless thriller does not give the charismatic Rodriguez any depth or dimension beyond her swaying brown locks and angelic face acting like an ethnic Annie Oakley on foreign turf. Whereas the original film catered to a sense of consciousness among the destruction Hardwicke’s ‘Miss Bala merely wants to shock and shake without investing anything substantive or contemplative.

While both Rodriguez and Cordova seem to make some hearty hay out of their rollicking roles others seem to get lost in the shuffle of the perfunctory proceedings. Mackie never seems to get anything solidly going as the opportunistic DEA. Briefly, we are treated to the energetic presence of Mexican actress Aislinn Derbez but she is short-changed some vital screen time.  Overall, bodies are tossed and turned but the suspense is about as invigorating as a raid at a seedy red district hotel. Indeed, Hardwicke’s draggy drug-induced pot-boiler wants to be flashy but instead chugs along in manufactured step-by-step, empty-minded boisterousness.

In the long run, Rodriguez’s beleaguered border babe simply misfires in the far-fetched ‘Miss Bala.

Miss Bala

Columbia Pictures

1 hr. 44 mins.

Starring: Gina Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Aislinn Derbez, Matt Lauria, Thomas Dekker and Cristina Rodlo

Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

Written by: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer

Rated: PG-13

Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng 2019


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