Miss Bala is not your typical beauty pageant movie. Granted, there are often drugs and clandestine violence involved in U.S. beauty pageants, the nature of how a pageant is run in Baja, California deviates somewhat from the norm. While, obviously, Miss Bala was intended to address a serious subject matter (drug trafficking in Mexico), I can't help but wonder what a more satirical version of the film might have entailed--specifically in the vein of Michael Patrick Jann's 1999 masterpiece, Drop Dead Gorgeous.
The heroine of Miss Bala, Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman), starts out as a naive and unwitting sort of contender, much like Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) in Drop Dead Gorgeous. Her friend, Suzu (Lakshmi Picazo), tries out for the competition with her, and when both are accepted, Laura believes she really has a chance to positively represent Baja. What she doesn't realize is that being at the wrong place at the wrong time will change her life forever. Kind of like Tammy (Brooke Elise Bushman) after Becky (Denise Richards) blows up her tractor.
Writer-director Gerardo Neranjo's action-packed script, paired with his equally fast-paced directorial style, leaves little room for dialogue. Had it reflected the tongue in cheek mockumentary created by screenwriter Lona Williams in Drop Dead Gorgeous, there might have been more room to poke fun at the absurdity of Mexican drug/gang lords. And in any case, the out and out violence method can never be surpassed by Fernando Meirelles' 2002 epic, City of God.
The other problem with Miss Bala is how much it strays away from the beauty pageant angle until the third act. The very title of the film suggests that this would be the crux of the story. Naturally, it would be difficult--but not impossible--to convey the intent of the movie without focusing on the drug/gang lord in question, Lino Valdez (Noe Hernandez), who develops an overt obsession with Laura, making awkward sexual advances toward her and forcing her to cross the border with a fuck ton of money strapped to her stomach so that she can give it to Lino's cohort in the DEA, Jimmy (James Russo). In many ways, Lino's sort of like the Kirstie Alley figure in this movie: Out to destroy whoever gets in the way of his reign.
The tragic conclusion of Miss Bala is designed to awaken its audience to the horrors of the Mexican drug trafficking industry (which, according to the epilogue, nets 25 billion dollars a year). With both Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal attached as producers of the film, the subject was obviously a personal one to all parties involved with it. I just think a little suffusion of beauty pageant mockery meets the innovative ways that drug traffickers come up with to smuggle their contraband could have been a nice touch.