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'Miss Bala' is more miss than baller

Phil on Film
Posted: 8:04 AM, Feb 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-04 13:13:17Z
2262477 - Gloria

"Miss Bala" is one wacky episode of "Jane the Virgin."

"This week, we find Jane in some trouble," you can imagine the Latin Lover narrator of the CW show say as the ludicrous film unravels. "Her best friend was kidnapped, and she's being used as a pawn between the American feds and Mexican drug cartels. Worst of all -- she's got nothing to wear to tonight's corrupt politician/drug lord party."

A victim of her own success, Gina Rodriguez is so typecast in the neurotic rom-com role that anything different she tries to do withers under the weight of her Jane persona. She tries mightily to break free from the character in this dizzying border war, but the effort is all reach and no grab.

It's a wince-inducing stretch for Rodriguez to shed the girl-next-door image to evolve into a sneering, gun-toting, beauty pageant contestant who is as comfortable in a ball gown as she is dodging grenades and opening fire on thugs.

"Can we say, awkward" the "Jane the Virgin" narrator might say.

Director Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen," "Twilight," "Red Riding Hood") remakes a 2011 Mexican film of the same title, plugging in an array of largely unknown actors around Rodriguez. There was potential here for some incisive political commentary and relevant insights into border town violence, but it all gives way to pandering action set pieces and withering cliches.

Rodriguez, at least, is magnetic enough to get you to pull for her character, even as she tangles with a foe mightier than the gangsters and corrupt G-men who manipulate her. All while finding time to take part in a beauty pageant.

That would be a weak, derivative script, that comes off as the product of a coffee-fueled all-nighter after a "Sicario" and "Narcos" binge.

Rodriguez plays Gloria, a Tijuana transplant who has been raised in a privileged California life to become a makeup artist. Back in her hometown to help her bestie win a pageant, she finds herself torn from her familiar existence after cartel gunman infiltrate a nightclub party.

From that point on, Gloria finds herself kidnapped, turned into a made, dolled up and trained to kill by various forces that juggle her. She plays along in an effort to rescue her kidnapped friend, gradually gaining the skills it will take to transform into a decidedly un-Jane-like death-dealing tornado of destruction.

"Miss Bala" loses its way by ratcheting up the standoffs, action and insipid dialogue in the grand tradition of exploitation B movies. You half expect Gloria to do cartwheels in between roundhouse kicks and powder her nose with one hand as she decks a "bad hombre" with the other.

The remarkably talented Rodriguez deserves better. You get the feeling that roles like this will do more to hold her back than advance her post-"Jane" evolution.

"Eh guys?" the narrator might say, "let's just all pretend this chapter never happened, OK?"

RATING: 2 stars out of 4.

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