CREDIT: Columbia Pictures

Starring: Gina Rodriguez, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Anthony Mackie, Aislinn Derbez, Matt Lauria, Cristina Rodlo, Ricardo Abarca, Thomas Dekker

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Drug Trafficking, Violence Shot Far Enough Away That You Don’t See the Worst of It, and Nudity Covered Up by Towels and Shower Steam

Release Date: February 1, 2019

What if you found yourself embroiled in a series of criminal activities because some bad actors forced you to do their bidding, and you somehow made it out alive? Would you think that this is a sign that you should transform yourself into a full-time badass? Would you maybe even suspect that the whole thing was engineered as a training exercise? This is the ringer that Gloria Meyer (Gina Rodriguez) goes through, and anyone watching Miss Bala (a remake of the 2011 Mexican film of the same name) cannot possibly be anything but impressed by her resourcefulness and gumption.

Gloria is a makeup artist living in Los Angeles who heads south of the border to Tijuana to make her friend Suzu’s (Cristina Rodlo) face a work of art to help her win a beauty pageant. But then a trip to the nightclub leads to a disorienting succession of gunfire, kidnapping, and irreversible new life paths. As Gloria attempts to find Suzu after the two get separated, a drug cartel grabs a hold of her and forces her to do their dirty work. Then the DEA gets their paws on her as well, offering a potential chance to escape this predicament, though the price will not exactly be cheap. She quickly realizes that within the arena of the drug war, nobody really has her back. But as this is a star vehicle for Rodriguez, you know that Gloria will some way, somehow, emerge alive and on top. By the end, you might wonder if this was all a simulation designed to test her mettle, but that conclusion would ignore how chaotic the whole ordeal is, and the filmmaking makes it clear that her survival is never a guarantee.

Miss Bala hits hard as a character study, but it is fairly standard-issue as an action film. Gloria’s psychological development is abundantly present all over the screen, and there are few actors who can combine steely commitment and vulnerability the way that Rodriguez does. Director Catherine Hardwicke has a knack for getting her actors exactly where they need to be, but when it comes to the particular demands of the genre, she plays it safe. That means a standard-issue rough-and-tumble (though thankfully not too frenetic) editing style and a thrum-thrum-thrum score that sounds like it came from the stock music catalogue. So Miss Bala hardly reinvents the wheel, but it’s worth it to see Rodriguez’s face light up when she realizes that she’s a winner, baby.

Miss Bala is Recommended If You Like: Jane the Virgin but wish it had more drug trafficking storylines

Grade: 3 out of 5 Survival Tactics