Review: Miss Bala remake is slick and sexy but lacks the original’s rotted core

Catherine Hardwicke's remake sprinkles sexual tension and action fantasy into a story about cartel violence

MISS BALA (Catherine Hardwicke). 104 minutes. Opens Friday (February 1). See listing. Rating: NNN

In the original Miss Bala, a helpless beauty pageant contestant gets hopelessly caught between a drug cartel and the corrupt police they control. The 2011 movie, directed by Gerardo Naranjo (before he got famous with Narcos) was surreal and cynical, depicting Mexico’s cartel violence as an inescapable hell spiral.

You had to know the Hollywood remake wouldn’t play it like that.

The new Miss Bala, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, follows the old plot beats but aims for a totally different feel. This time things are slicker and sexier, with a touch of girl power and room for sequels. Sure, the remake lacks the original’s rotted core, but once you embrace that, you’ll find the thing mildly distracting and occasionally thrilling.

Jane The Virgin star Gina Rodriguez plays Gloria, an L.A. makeup artist visiting her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) in Tijuana to help the latter prep for the Miss Baja California pageant. After a night at a club where the girls witness a gang-triggered shootout, Gloria is forced to do the cartel’s bidding.

This time around, the gang leader, Ismael Cruz Cordova’s Lino, is a hunky slab with piercing eyes like “hot felon” Jeremy Meeks. Flirting with Stockholm Syndrome for cartel hostages, Hardwicke has fun sprinkling in the sexual tension whenever Lino turns on the charm or fires a soulful gaze at Gloria, complicating her feelings towards the repellent figure.

Rodriguez puts in a fine deer-in-headlights performance that rises to glorious during a drug mule sequence, where she fights to contain emotional panic as she slowly drives past U.S. border agents.

That moment feels closest to the anguish from the source material. And then the movie proceeds toward action fantasy, complete with a Charlie’s Angels-style money shot where Rodriguez struts proudly in a red dress, AR-15 in hand.

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