Last year yielded quite a few predictable action movies, but Hollywood, of course, wasn’t finished. While Catherine Hardwicke’s “Miss Bala” illustrates an important trend in the industry, it also brought disappointing action flicks into 2019.
The film follows Gloria Fuentes (Gina Rodriguez), who visits her close friend, Suzu Ramós (Cristina Rodlo), in Tijuana, Mexico. During a night out on the town, gunmen fire at a club the friends are enjoying, Ramós goes missing and Fuentes is eventually captured by members of the Las Estrellas gang.
The gang leader, Lino (Ismael Cruz Córdova), makes a deal with Fuentes: If she starts working for him, he will help her find Ramós. Fuentes reluctantly complies and is sent to California to attend the Miss Baja competition undercover. While there, she gets kidnapped again, this time by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Fuentes is conflicted; she wants to be a good citizen and help the DEA, but she’s also desperate to find her friend.
From just a brief introduction, it’s pretty easy to guess what happens next. “Miss Bala” has the ingredients of another “Miss Congeniality” — a pageant, government agency involvement, a beautiful woman — but isn’t nearly as iconic. The plot is predictable, and the only thing that differentiates the movie is its main character: a resilient, Latin-American woman.
Regardless, director Hardwicke achieved her primary goal by focusing on this strong, Latina character, because she always intended Rodriguez to play the next kickass action hero. Originally, a different “Miss Bala” was released in 2011, written and produced by men. Hardwicke felt that the Mexican version brilliantly represented the weaknesses of Mexico during the drug war, but that it didn’t accurately show the strength of Fuentes as a character. Hardwicke wanted to make “Miss Bala” a new kind of heroine and show the beauty of Mexico, contrary to how it’s portrayed in today’s media.
Along with the high quality of production, Rodriguez’s performance in “Miss Bala” is noteworthy. Far different from the characters she played on “Jane the Virgin” and “Annihilation,” in “Miss Bala” she’s fearless, ready to do anything and call out whatever she disagrees with.
Translated, “Miss Bala” means “Miss Bullet,” and with her stout attitude and determination to get her friend back, Fuentes is bulletproof. No matter how many times she is threatened, Fuentes stands her ground. She keeps fighting back, pushing herself to not give up, and in the end, “the bullet settles everything.” Fuentes is the bullet, and her efforts paid off in a happy ending.
Unfortunately, though, the movie’s happy ending doesn’t mirror what happened in the box office. “Miss Bala” has taken a major hit, having made only $13 million almost three weeks after release, with an initial budget of $15 million. The film reviews also haven’t been shining, showing a 24 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite the low film ratings, critics have praised Rodriguez for her distinctive performance as a new action hero, and others say the chemistry between Rodriguez and Córdova added an emotional layer found nowhere else in the film. But even with some character development, it’s not enough to feel fully satisfied.
Overall, “Miss Bala” had high hopes but didn’t quite make the cut. Granted, when it comes to action movies, it’s hard to balance realistic action scenes, decent acting and a memorable plot. “Miss Bala” did manage to meet two out of the three ingredients but didn’t add nearly enough of the third: a unique story.
“Miss Bala” might not be a hit on its own, but it joins a developing trend of lead females in action films. In the past few years, “Wonder Woman” and “Tomb Raider” have featured women as the only hero. Now, after “Miss Bala,” there are even more films coming out, like “Alita: Battle Angel” and “Captain Marvel,” that will put even more heroines on the big screen.
Despite the movie’s failures, Hardwicke thinks the door is wide open for another “Miss Bala” film. She predicts Fuentes could be the Latina version of Jason Bourne: traveling to different countries, fighting crime and saving her friends. “Miss Bala” may be a predictable action movie, but it’s ammunition needed to fight the uphill battle of diversity in film.