Stepping up in a big way, Mex-Generation director Gerardo Naranjo has clearly been hiding an inner Brian De Palma: Miss Bala starts as a lonely-girl story about a beauty-pageant hopeful trying her luck. But the camera lurks sinuously, and you know something bad is about to happen. The quietly alluring Laura (Sigman) dreams of putting her Tijuana poverty behind her; unfortunately, her curiosity steers her to a noisy dance hall where a gang hit goes down, violence that she accidentally witnesses. Now a liability, Laura is kidnapped and turned into a runner by ambitious drug lord Lino (Hernandez, in a weirdly touching performance), whose attachment is deeper than it first seems.
Miss Bala---a half-translated title (and pun on "Miss Baja") that should have gone all the way to its full English name, Miss Bullet---is best seen as a dark near-comedy, as Laura continually tries to escape and Lino insists on pushing her through the contest to victory. (Perhaps the movie's debut at last year's Cannes Film Festival intimated a political depth that really isn't there.) Yet Naranjo is intent on delivering the propulsive goods via long-take shoot-outs worthy of a vastly more expensive production. There's a wild, Miami Blues--like dreaminess to the movie that's addictive. If anything, it shows up exactly what Little Miss Sunshine lacked: plenty of ammo.
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