Any time a foreign film is remade for Hollywood audiences, there is an inevitable degree of Americanization that takes place. Our country’s values are injected into this new narrative, oftentimes completely changing the original film’s message and creating something much less cohesive. In this American remake of a Mexican film by the same name, Miss Bala takes its shot at the border war on drugs but it ends up coming off like a sack of Fox News-fueled cliches.
This female-directed, Hispanic-penned remake was all about the intentions, and while I’m sure it had the best ones in mind, the execution was a mess on almost all fronts. The original film came out in 2011 and was very nearly nominated for an Academy Award. It followed an ambitious young woman who wanted to compete in a beauty pageant but ends up a pawn in a criminal organization after she searches for her best friend. This version of Miss Bala follows many of the same main plot points that the original explores, but from blatantly different perspectives.
The Mexican film uses the main character Laura (played by Stephanie Sigman) as a vehicle to explore the drugs, violence, and corruption. She is undoubtedly the main character, but she is never in control of the myriad of escalating situations she finds herself in. The intention of the film was never really to explore the character but to use her as a representation of what plagues the average Mexican citizen who lives close to the border. She is a victim in every sense, but a sympathetic one where you could easily picture yourself reacting the same way she does in every situation. The most recent film takes the opposite approach, sacrificing relatability for a level a satisfaction that only a revenge film can bring.
Miss Bala (2019) mostly exists as a way to introduce Gina Rodriguez as the action star we always knew she could be. Director Catherine Hardwicke makes sure that at no moment the character of Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) can be seen as a victim. The compelling part about Laura in the original film is the level of vulnerability the character displayed, but also the emotional fortitude needed to keep from just completely shutting down. Hardwicke packs as much PG-13 action into the film to keep us from noticing that it never really reaches the emotional heights of its predecessor. Instead, we get many tepid action scenes that don’t carry the same guttural punch that the original has because this film chooses to shy away from the true brutality. This is one of the many reasons the film’s tone is erratic because it is trying to figure out what kind of film it wants to be. Miss Bala shifts from a toned down Sicario wannabe to an Ocean’s Eleven type heist film, and then finally a Jack Reacher-like origin story.
There is a clear difference between something that is complex and something that is just complicated, and the story in this Miss Bala is an over-complicated mess. For his first feature film, Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer takes some of the story points from the original film and fills the rest of the holes with enough cliches and tropes to make any conservative Republican feel validated. Dunnet-Alcocer only shoots for the low-hanging fruit, mixing the predictable with the stereotypical. His take on the Mexican border feels like something that was cobbled together from Trump tweets and Fox News commentators. The film introduces mainly different plot points, only to leave most of them unresolved/abandoned or nonsensically concluded.
Not even the characters are exempt from this scattershot mess. Every character struggles to reach even one level of dimension, mostly because they are so poorly developed, but also because they are rarely on screen. Talent like Cristina Rodlo, Aislinn Derbez, Anthony Mackie, and even the main antagonist played by Ismael Cruz Cordova go to waste with how ill-conceived their characters are. The film doesn’t bother to go past surface motivations with most of them, bringing them on-screen for what I can only assume is to showcase how attractive they are. The only character that comes even a little bit close to being fully realized is Miss Bala herself, played by Gina Rodriguez.
In this film, Rodriguez in an unstoppable dynamo that delivers on both the style and substance fronts. She is easily turned into a character that we are rooting for, not just because of her charm, but because he character is constantly making proactive, smart decisions, refusing to be only a victim in the situation she finds herself in. Miss Bala needs to be seen if only as a precursor for the inevitable domination that Gina Rodriguez will bring to the action genre. As most film’s do these days, Miss Bala aims to create a franchise, but all the missed shots in the film make a sequel unwarranted and unwanted, hopefully leaving Rodriguez open to work on actioners worthy of her skills.