If you have any inkling, even the slightest idea of what Breaking In is all about, you, well, know exactly what Breaking In is all about. It’s a stripped-down, to-the-point home invasion thriller that delivers 100% what it promises. How much mileage you get out of that depends on you, but it accomplishes precisely what it sets out to do. But it’s easily watchable, even if there’s little substance, and Gabrielle Union is terrific as a desperate, vengeful mother fucking up BillyBurke and his gang of goons.
When her father dies, Shaun (Union) takes her kids, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr), to his isolated house, the home she grew up in, to clean it out and sell it. When they arrive, they find Eddie (Burke) and his crew—a bland Proud Boy (Mark Furze), a bleach-blonde tweaker with a conscience (Levi Meaden), and crazy-eyed Mexican Milo Ventimiglia (Richard Cabral). There’s something in the house they want, they grab the kids, and Shaun spends the rest of the movie fighting to get them back.
Breaking In doesn’t waste a lot of time with background or backstory. It drops hints that Shaun’s dad was involved in shady business, gives clues that Eddie has a military background, and vaguely addresses Shaun’s life beyond the confines of this film. It sprinkles these types of breadcrumbs throughout. But what matters most is the here and now. There’s never a “this is why Shaun is a badass” moment, which is refreshing. She’s just a smart, capable woman pushed to extremes. We learn this by watching what she does, not by being told who she is.
The plot is generic and predictable, and though overall the film’s completely forgettable, Union sells it as best she can. Burke and his cronies chew the scenery in occasionally amusing ways--it is funny to watch them dance around swearing to maintain the PG-13 rating--but she carries the load. She gives Shaun agency and drive, and though a weak movie surrounds her, she’s a fantastic, compelling protagonist—both the character and performance are much better than the movie they’re in. If nothing else, I hope Breaking In makes people stand up and stay, “Holy shit, we should cast Gabrielle Union.”
The son doesn’t bring much to the table, but Jasmine, the daughter, is actually more interesting than most kids-in-peril roles. Not content to sit idly by and be victimized, she takes action on her own. It’s nice to see a young woman in a movie like this with a spine and she’s most definitely Shaun’s daughter. Though like with Union, I wish she was in a better movie.
Despite a few standout elements, Breaking In simply doesn’t offer much else. Even with a ticking clock, there’s never any palpable tension. In moments of action, director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, The Raven) feels out of his element—the action is not great, or coherently staged. Writer Ryan Engle continues a string of bland thrillers that include Non-Stop and The Commuter (and also Rampage oddly enough), but this isn’t even as much fun as either of those.
I hate the phrase, “It is what it is,” but in the case of Breaking In, there’s not much else to say. It’s great to see a thriller like this fronted by a woman, especially a woman of color, but it’s generic and toothless and destined to be largely forgotten. Which is frustrating because Gabrielle Union is so good. She deserves much better than this, and so do audiences. [Grade: C]