Too often, unsuccessful movies try to be too much. They might try to be an action film and a romance and a crime thriller and a political drama all at once, and this dilutes the end result. Miss Bala is the rare film that doesn’t try to be anything, and its apathy is glaring.
Starting in Los Angeles, we first meet Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) as she rushes off to a fashion show. She’s a makeup artist, one of the dozens working to get a parade of models runway ready. Soon after the show is done and an extra gift bag snatched, Gloria heads south to Tijuana to see her lifelong best friend. Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) is entering a beauty pageant and Gloria has offered to be her personal makeup artist for the competition. The night before the pageant officially starts rehearsals, Gloria and Suzu head out for a night of dancing and try to grab the attention of the guy in charge of the pageant, who just so happens to lord over that particular club.
Nearly as soon as they arrive, mayhem strikes when the club gets shot up by a local gang. In the panic and chaos, Gloria and Suzu get separated. Gloria can’t find Suzu anywhere, and the local officials are little help to her and the other survivors. When she tries to leverage the fact that she saw the guys who did it into some additional favor with the police, Gloria gets sucked into the world of drug and human trafficking, with seemingly no way out.
The rest of Miss Bala is just a game of push and pull in messing with Gloria. She’s captive, then she’s free. She’s working for the DEA, then she’s running drugs across the border. She thinks the head of the gang is a monster, then she thinks he’s cute and buys his kinda sad origin story. It’s not that Gloria has been thrust into this high-stakes world of crime and is suddenly adept at playing all of the sides off one another. Rather, she seems to just be scared and somehow really lucky when bumbling her way through a violent new life.
Besides the plot being a little predictable and lazy, the characters in Miss Bala are inscrutable. We’re simply never given enough information about any of them to know if they’re acting out of character. When Gloria looks terrified or she looks relaxed, we’re never let on if this is an act she’s putting on for her captor (Ismael Cruz Cordova) or if she’s truly feeling the way her face looks. Gloria is sometimes painted as a smart and cunning woman, who’s often underestimated to her advantage, but then she does some dumb things or fails to read people for who they really are.
The action in Miss Bala is sporadic and never quite enough to distract from the spotty character development and inconsistent plot. By the time the film gets around to dropping some big truth bombs on Gloria, I gave up caring about anyone or any of their fleeting loyalties.
I would be willing to toss Miss Bala into my ever-growing pile of disappointments if it weren’t such an aggressive waste of Gina Rodriguez’s talent. She’s capable of so much more that this and we all deserve better from her.