(director/writer: Catherine Hardwicke; screenwriter: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer; cinematographer: Patrick Murguia; editor: Terilyn A. Shropshire ; music: Alex Heffes; cast:  Gina Rodriguez (Gloria Fuentes),  Cristina Rodlo (Suzu),  Ismael Cruz Córdova (Lino), Matt Lauria (Brian Reich), Anthony Mackie (Jimmy), Aislinn Derbez (Isabel), Thomas Dekker (Justin), Damián Alcázar (Police Chief), Mik hail Plata (Chivo); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Pablo Cruz/Kevin Misher; Columbia Pictures 2019-Mexico/USA-in English & Spanish, with English subtutles when needed)

A tiresome exploitation film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A hollow remake of Gerardo Naranjo’s 2011 Spanish language film of a brutal Mexican action thriller about the drug gang kidnapping of a docile beauty contest winner they rape and force to work for them. Middling filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”/”Lords of Dogtown”) directs Miss Bala, with the Spanish meaning for bala being bullet, as a tiresome exploitation film, even if it’s inspired by a meaningful true story. Writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer brings little to the picture but plenty of graphic gunplay and a stark remake of the heroine’s personality from the original.

The attractive Mexican-American Gloria Fuentes (Gina Rodriguez) is doing well as a make-up artist in Los Angeles. She crosses the border into Tijuana to help her friend Suzy (Cristina Rodlo) with her make-up when she’s a contestant in the Miss Baja California beauty pageant. A contest sponsored by the sleazy police chief (Damián Alcázar), who tries to have sex with all the contestants.

The brutal Tijuana narco-terrorist Lino (Ismael Cruz Córdova), also a Mexican-American and raised as a child in Bakersfield, raids the nightclub with his gang where the friends are having a night out and abducts Suzu. Gloria is a witness to the massacre and is willing to identify the gang leader, but talks to a corrupt policeman on the gang’s payroll who notifies the gang. They abduct her and force her to help Lino expand his drug empire by being a mule. Lino is attracted to Gloria and doesn’t violate her.

They both share the same feeling of being conflicted over their mixed heritage, as he tells her as a child I was told that I was “too gringo to be a Mexican, too Mexican to be a gringo.” Gloria can identify with that, as Suzu’s brother (Mikhail Plata) tells her on her arrival that her Spanish is weak like how an American talks.

The conflicted gang leader thinks of bringing Gloria into his gang, especially after she plants a bomb for him taking out one of his enemies, so he makes the mistake of teaching her how to use an AR-15.

Gloria takes to the weapon as easily as putting her make-up on. She then shows her avenger stuff when she’s forced to work for both the gang as a mule and as a mole for the ruthless DEA, led by the mean-spirited Brian Reich (Matt Lauria).

The disposable pic tells us after countless set pieces of gratuitous gunplay, that these border-crossing drug wars are not good for the citizens of either country. Such an obvious revelation is worthy of such a vacuous film.

Miss Bala, 2019 version

REVIEWED ON 4/15/2020  GRADE: C-