Sneaking in between “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel” comes another virtual superheroine movie, though to be fair “Miss Bala”—a remake of a well-regarded 2011 Mexican film—is more an original pilot for a “Jane Bond” franchise than one for “Superwoman.” But whatever way you care to look at it, the tale of a young woman caught between drug traffickers and law-enforcement agencies is more than a little farfetched, and even worse, not much fun
The young woman at the center of things is Gloria (Gina Rodriguez), a struggling California cosmetologist who travels to Tijuana to support her chum Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who’s entered the Miss Baja California beauty pageant. They attend a party at a snazzy nightclub preceding the event, and it’s invaded by a bunch of drug cartel thugs, headed by suave, handsome Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who are after a general attending the bash who’s the head of the local constabulary.
For some reason Lino, who comes upon Gloria, lets her go. But in the melee Suzu disappears, and Gloria is intent on finding her. Unfortunately, for a variety of unlikely reasons that puts her in the middle between Lino and his gang, who force her to transport money and drugs across the border to their U.S. contact (Anthony Mackie), and a brusque drug enforcement agent named Brian (Matt Lauria), who intends to use her to set a trap for Lino.
In this increasingly fraught situation, Gloria learns that she’ll have to fend for herself, not merely to survive but to save Suzu and her little brother, whom Lino has taken prisoner. Certainly she can’t depend on any of the men around, because all of them are seriously defective. Lino is certainly good to look at, and he has a certain charm that at some points even suggests a possible romantic attachment. But in the end he proves a heartless sort—even summarily executing someone he thinks a snitch, much to Gloria’s dismay (understandable, since she helped put the victim in Lino’s sights). And though the posse surrounding him consists of more obviously brutish fellows, he’s really not that much better.
What about Brian? Well, he’s a thoroughly unsympathetic sort, interested in Gloria only as a means to an end and willing to cast her aside summarily when her usefulness to him is over. He’s hardly a hero. Nor is General Saucedo, the Tijuana police chief, who turns out to be a lustful pervert, or another cop who turns over Gloria to Lino rather than taking her to safety. It’s lucky, in a way, that Gloria isn’t provided with an American boyfriend; if she were, he’d undoubtedly be some hapless wimp totally incapable of giving her any help. In fact, the only good guy around—at least until a not-so-clever twist at the end (which, in fact, renders a major plot point incomprehensible)—appears to be Suzu’s kid brother; but then he’s too young to have learned how to be nastily macho.
In any event, Gloria proves to be entirely capable of rising to the occasion and handling business on her own. Thanks to Lino, she learns to fire an automatic rifle and will make use of that knowledge before the picture is over. She outwits and outmaneuvers all the men around her to achieve what she intends—rescuing Suzu and reuniting her friend with her brother. She even manages to do something she hadn’t intended—winning the pageant. (Of course, since it was a crooked contest from the start, that doesn’t count.) In the end, she outsmarts the whole DEA—and extracts concessions from them that presumably set her up as one of their best agents. (Is there a “Miss Bala 2” waiting in the wings? After all, the name translates as “Miss Bullet”—a catchy moniker.)
The original Mexican movie might have been edgy and compelling, but this English version is about as credible as Robert Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi.” Gloria makes her way through hails of gunfire and a major explosion, emerging totally unscathed, and outthinks and outshoots everyone who threatens her. Implausibility piles upon implausibility: there’s a particularly hilarious sequence when Gloria is driving through the border crossing to the U.S., loaded down with cash and drugs. She’s shown grimacing hysterically at the thought of facing the agents, but sails through with a quick smile, though she’s obviously nervous as all get out. No wonder enhanced security is so essential.
Such absurdities point up the continuing decline of the career of director Catherine Hardwicke, which began promisingly with the gritty “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown” but then sank into the banality of “Twilight” and “Red Riding Hood” and has never really recovered. Rodriguez proves a spunky if unbelievable heroine and Cordova is a real find in terms of masculine eye candy, but otherwise the performances in the movie are pretty perfunctory; and the technical side—especially the cinematography of Patrick Murguia and editing of Terilyn A. Shropshire—is fine (apart from some visually murky action scenes).
But overall “Miss Bala” is just another mediocre effort to create a Hollywood action heroine, super or not.