Breaking In attempts to capitalize on the old saying, “There’s nothing stronger than a mother’s love for her children.” Caught in an impossible situation, a woman (Gabrielle Union) is forced to fight not only for her own life, but the lives of her children. Sounds like a compelling movie, right? Well, it could’ve been, but the threats she faces include a bleached blond tweaker and an ex-con who can’t quite manage to grow a complete mustache. With villains like these, the mom turns out to be the most intimidating character in the film.
One of the most underrated principles of good storytelling is that a hero is only as good as their villain. We all love watching someone save the day, but the real icing on the cake is the bad guy. Breaking In stumbles not because it has a bad premise or the leads aren’t capable, but because the bad guys are pretty pathetic. They’re led by Billy Burke, who actually does a pretty good job as the brains of the operation. His cohorts, on the other hand, don’t exactly strike terror in the hearts of the audience. Even the psycho member of the crew who is quick to kill (played by Richard Cabral) hardly makes you bat an eye, despite the crazy look he gets in his eyes. The poor casting and scripting behind these characters sets Breaking In up for failure early on because there will never be a grand moment where the heroine overcomes the undefeatable villains.
Luckily, the leads of Breaking In are a lot better served than the heavies. As protagonist Shaun Russell, Gabrielle Union manages to create an empathetic connection with the audience early on. She’s a natural as a stressed-out single mom just trying to get through a tough weekend with two whining kids. Her son Glover (Seth Carr) is a tech geek who can’t help annoying his older sister Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus), who keeps her nose buried in her phone as she texts boys. In a way, these characters are stereotypes, but they never quite cross over into clichés. Instead, the audience is able to identify with them instantly, meaning that the film can get right to the heart of its story without a lot of development. This turns out to be both a good thing and a bad thing.
This story, you see, has been done to death: family moves somewhere, something bad happens to them, one of the family members fights back and gets revenge. But Breaking In is a disgrace to all the films that did it well. First off, it follows the formula so exactly that it becomes incredibly predictable. Every plot point, every (failed) scare, every moment of attempted intensity, is anticipated and expected, so there’s nothing to hold your interest. The film is also highly pretentious, presenting itself as thoughtful and compelling cinema, but the airs it puts on are laughable because the film is so terrible. As good as Union is, she never gets a chance to make Shaun seem larger than life. There’s no hero’s journey for her, no moment where her resolve changes or she gathers herself to do the insane and take on the criminals holding her kids hostage. Her character simply is, and that’s kind of boring. I’m sure it’s meant to demonstrate the kind of courage and resolve that all mothers are supposed to have when it comes to defending their children, but that’s just an assumption and the byproduct of weak writing by Ryan Engle (who has had quite a year with The Commuter and Rampage). In fact, it shares a lot of similarities with The Commuter in its lack of story structure and character development.
Outside of Union, some of the acting is stilted and boring, something you would see in a Transformers movie, or Tyler Perry “film.” It’s hard to connect with any of the characters, which is disastrous because in these types of films you need to feel for the family being put in danger, to want the lead to get sweet revenge on her tormentors, and Breaking In leaves you feeling none of that. The movie isn’t much of a thriller because it never raises the stakes, satisfied just to keep the tension level dully consistent. Even when he attempts some form of escalation, director James McTeigue never takes the time to lay out the implications of the new threat. Not only that, but there’s a real lack of visual flair to Breaking In, which is odd considering McTeigue is so well known for just that. Alas, this is a far cry from his epic sci-fi revenge film V for Vendetta. Instead, it’s a lackluster attempt at a home invasion movie that never manages to make you too concerned for the main characters’ safety. The shots are all quick and never linger long enough to raise the suspense. Breaking In feels very much like a rush to the finish line, not allowing us to savor the thrills it, as a result, fails to create; even the anticlimactic ending isn’t long enough to let anything we’re supposed to feel sink in before the credits start to roll.
Unfortunately, Breaking In is just another disappointing attempt at trying to snag an audience with a lackluster mom-centric movie for Mother’s Day. To be perfectly fair, it does exceed my expectations, but considering how much I was dreading this flick, that isn’t saying much. It’s not a painful movie to watch like so many other action thrillers of late, but it falls completely flat, never making you feel anything at all. Instead, it just meanders along until it finally ends, and the audience is left to wonder, “Is that it?” I’m not mad that I saw this movie, or even disappointed that I sat through the whole thing; I’m completely apathetic towards Breaking In. It’s not as abysmal as Truth or Dare, but it is pretty bad. Wait for it to arrive on Redbox instead of going to the theater.