“Miss Bala” – Review (Does A Formulaic Story Hinder the Tension?)

Miss Bala (2019) Sony Pictures

“MISS BALA” starring Gina Rodriguez is a crime-thriller now in theaters. This is an American remake of the 2011 Spanish-language film of the same name. The story follows Gloria, a makeup-artist that heads down to Tijuana to help her best friend prep for the Miss Baja Pageant. They decide to check out a nightclub and things go terribly wrong. Her friend is missing, and soon Gloria finds herself kidnapped and pulled into a dangerous world of organized crime. Guarded by the control of a deadly kingpin, and under the eye of the D.E.A. Gloria will need to use every bit of her intelligence, her determination, and inner strength to not just find her friend, but to survive.

I’ve certainly had some rough patches that all started with a night of drinking in Tijuana but fortunately nothing to the extent the main character in this film is up against in this one. I was honestly interested in this movie. I love action films, crime-thrillers, and crime-dramas. I like films centered around organized-crime, and I also thoroughly enjoy a genre film with a strong female lead character. These are all things this film appeared set to provide from the trailer, so I went in with some genuine optimism. The first-act does sort of get going quickly. It starts to build some tension after setting the stage and giving us a glimpse of our endearing character in her normal life. Rodriguez does come out of the gate strong with a natural charm and energy to her performance to lay the groundwork for a character I felt safe in thinking I could root for throughout the dangerous journey ahead.

But this was not a very compelling movie for a handful of reasons. The musical-score, the tone, the pacing, and the story-progression. These were all things that I felt hindered an effort filled performance from Rodriguez in being able to successfully carry this film on her shoulders. The musical-score and the soundtrack to this film felt way off from the intended tone of the story. It had a “Fast & Furious” vibe to it at times that made me feel like I was watching Letty’s spin-off story. Added with an overly clean look to the film, some stylized camerawork the studio polish stripped away the grittiness this story should have provided. It was just too clean despite trying to come across as menacing. It attempted to build intimidation, but I never really feared that the main character would not accomplish all her needed missions.

It never came across as a darker film that could possibly go an unexpected direction and it killed a ton of potential unpredictability. The layers to this story-line were not properly developed either. A bulk of the second-act sort of circles around itself as our main character is forced into some dangerous situations. But they never really accomplish being able to evolve the character to capture to the intended growth. Then later, layers are draped over the story and it felt convenient more than anything. None of it felt genuine and it came across as rushed when it didn’t need to be. The dialogue was not very efficient at all with tons of meaningless babble between the characters. There were many moments to provide substance and build momentum, but it routinely felt superficial and none of it intrigued like could have.

I must give credit to Gina Rodriguez though. She was strong in this role and I could tell from her performance she wanted this to be a good movie. She brought some dramatic range. There was a genuine sincerity in her emotional swings and with her delivery I was able to feel touches of suspense that the story itself failed to accomplish. Rodriguez was easily the best thing about this movie. The story though didn’t do her any favors, it forced her into scenarios that inspired repetitive emotions and with the effort from Rodriguez I think the story could have challenged her much more.

The strength in the character could have been compelling but without a naturally gradual growth and seeming to turn on like a light-switch it just didn’t grab my attention. I didn’t dislike this movie, but it was sadly forgettable. It ended up unfortunately being the case of a movie that started out strong. Wasted time in the middle. Then felt rushed late. It failed to capitalize on a lead star that was intent on providing effort in the role. With a PG-13 rating that made the subject-matter feel too watered down to provide a gripping story that could have me on edge, or fear for any unexpected turns. Making this a better movie to watch at home.