Film Review: ‘Breaking In’ Comes Up Empty

There’s nothing wrong with camp. With the trailer and tagline saying “Payback is a Mother,” “Breaking In” plays the camp card hard in its marketing. What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than watch the eternally underrated Gabrielle Union beat down some villainous men? All of the makings of a campy good time are there. Unfortunately, the movie takes itself too seriously in all the wrong ways to be fun.

Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union) takes her kids – Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr) – to the country to pack up her estranged Father’s house in the wake of his death. As Shaun packs up the house, some robbers break into the house. They take her kids and lock Shaun out of the house. As the robbers search for a safe that contains a supposed focus, Shaun uses her wits and determination to break into her childhood home and rescue her family.

Gabrielle Union knows how to command the screen. She’s done this plenty of times over her career. As Shaun, Union fails to relish in her action heroine role. She stabs one of the robbers with shards of her broken wine glass early on in the film. That same energy doesn’t reappear until later on in the third act. It’s not that Union is sleepwalking through the film. It’s that the film is sleepwalking on her. Shaun gets little time to develop as a character. Even as a vague badass, Shaun rarely gets the moments of heroism that causes the audience to cheer.

Whatever Union is doing is miles better than all of her adversaries put together. Billy Burke’s ringleader comes off as a smarmy carbon copy of a carbon copy of a Hans Gruber. His faux sophistication feels more laughable than threatening. Still, he fares better than his counterpart. Levi Meaden’s character looks like a hipster Kiefer Sutherland circa “The Lost Boys,” minus any sort of charisma. He saunters into every scene with a dumbfounded look of awe about him, struggling to get his lines out. On the other far side of the spectrum is Richard Cabral’s performance as Duncan, the sadistic member of the robbers. He licks his lips looking for blood from his very first frame. It’s hard to sneak up on anybody when you spend every moment gobbling up scenery in purely bizarre ways. In a just world, he would be an early Razzie contender.

All of this could still add up to an entertaining night at the movies, post drinks. However, the film insists on being a reverse “Panic Room,” thinks it’s on to something smart. Instead, it comes off as a chess match where neither party knows the rules to chess. Director James McTeigue fails to provide context as to where everyone is in the house in relation to each other. This makes any sense of real tension vanish. The script, by Ryan Engle, tries in vain for a twist that feels more groan worthy and out of nowhere than anything else.

Even at a mercifully short 88 minutes, “Breaking In” operates with a lot of flab. In particular, the first hour repeats itself often, as our dumbfounded henchmen wander aimlessly around this dark house in search for our renegade mother. As the movie spins its wheels, it loses its audience. The final twenty-five minutes throws caution into the wind, giving us some of the lunacy we came to the theater for. However, even the crazier punch lines don’t inspire the cheers and jeers one was primed for earlier in the show. Instead, “Breaking In” has worn out its welcome and all we want to do is break out of the theater.

“Breaking In” is now playing nationwide and is distributed by Universal Pictures.

GRADE: (1/2)

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