Some nuances lost in translation in the ‘Miss Bala’ remake
It’s complicated. That would be a more fitting title for “Miss Bala,” a remix of the much more impassioned and riveting, “Miss Bala” (2011). Brought to us by "Twilight” director, Catherine Hardwicke, and winning Phoenix Film Festival writer, Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer.
As with any Americanized remake of any non-American film a few elements are going to change. Guaranteed are more violence, less sincerity, ample pomp and plot holes the size of the Hoover Dam. Mission accomplished, Miss Bala.
Gloria Fuentes (Gina Rodriguez), a humble, shy, unassuming, uninteresting, unnoticeable and unattractive make-up artist, lives in San Diego. After decorating divas in a runway show, Gloria heads to Tijuana to gussy up her bestie, Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who is entering the Miss Baja California pageant. Suzu’s little brother is tossed in for a value-added relationship that we’re supposed to care about later in the film. The ladies decide to go to a local club. Suzu flirts with the local police chief to get a heads-up (run with that pun however you see fit) at winning the pageant. Gloria is offended by the game of grab-ass and retreats to the bathroom where members of a cartel are shimmying in through the HVAC system. They make her promise not to tell: Girl Scout’s honor. Gloria runs out in a panic to find Suzu, a shoot-out ensues, the two ladies lose contact in the commotion and – filled with trust that only a movie could muster – Gloria tells a shady cop everything that she saw and earns herself a kidnapping by the cartel.
Enter Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova). And lemme tell you, for a cartel leader, Lino is a swell guy. No sex, no drug use, no back-hand slaps, no hair-pulling, no torture, no beatings – just a stand-up guy. In one scene, he comes into a bedroom, removes his shirt, hops on the bed and tells Gloria to take off his boots and massage his ... feet? Gloria manages to escape and gets kidnapped by the DEA. Agent Whoever tells her that she is a suspect in the case and if she leads them to Lino, she will have immunity otherwise, they aren’t helping her get back home. Meanwhile, Lino promises her that if she smuggles some drugs across the border, he will help her find Suzu. This is the point where the film expects you to appreciate her dilemma. Gloria does the smart thing and heads to Suzu’s house to put her brother in danger.
Gina and Ismael carry the film entirely. They have solid chemistry that demonstrates the complexity of their on-screen relationship. Audiences will look forward to seeing these two re-matched in a drama that is worthy of their cinematic gravity and intensity. Hailed as one of the 25 Leaders of the Future by Latino Leaders Magazine, Ismael is virtually flawless in crafting a cartel leader with a heart. Gina, the Golden Globe winning actress from “Jane the Virgin” is remarkable. Though rushed with the American action-film pacing and abused by the clunky plot, Gina grows Gloria throughout the film from the terrified and confused kidnappee; to a woman executing plans to escape after epic fails; to a woman who just needs to survive long enough to locate her friend; and finally to Miss Bala.
Stockholm Syndrome is running rampant in American films right now. When the DEA abandons Gloria as collateral damage, she does what any lady would do: She switches sides, runs into a shoot-out and drags out wounded Lino who is smitten by the badass salvation. The plot is clunky and makes cartel kidnapping really clean with few physical, psychological or social consequences. At countless points, the viewer has to ask why Gloria doesn’t escape at several ripe moments and then has to remember that she cares about Suzu, the friend who has negative-zero character development. At one point, she stops in the USA to buy a cell phone and call the DEA. Maybe a better plan would have been to Google what to do when you’ve been kidnapped by a federal agency and a drug cartel in the same day.
For the finale, Gloria realizes that Lino lied to her gasp and starts her own shoot-out in a red evening gown and stilettos. Cue the theme song from “Team America.” What the film gets right is that women will go-hard for their bestie and that patience and a level-head can win over brutes and brawn but what is wrong is ... well ... it’s complicated.
Gina Rodriguez and Ismael Cruz Cordova - 5 out of 5 Balas
Cinematography – 4 out of 5 Balas
Plot – 3 out of 5 Balas
Remixing A Perfectly Good Original – 2 out of 5 Balas