Breaking In is the kind of movie that can’t stop reminding you that it will, relatively quickly, be over. The plot hinges on a timer counting down ninety minutes, the length of the movie itself, and occasionally characters will draw attention to the ticking clock, as if to assuage the audience’s presumed restlessness. That is to say, Breaking In is not a great movie, but hey, if Liam Neeson can make a bunch of stupid Taken movies, then Gabrielle Union can make one dumb movie that’s part Taken, part reverse Panic Room.
The Liam Neeson connection is especially apt, as Breaking In comes from Non-Stop and The Commuter scribe Ryan Engle. You can definitely see the similarity, with a desperate parent, Shaun (Union), fighting ruthless-yet-cripplingly-stupid bad guys to save her children, although Shaun’s “very particular set of skills” is just the adrenaline-fueled rage of a mother protecting her kids. Still, it’s a motivation, and Union is doing way more work than the script deserves, making a case for getting a much, much better action movie sent her way. There is almost nothing for her to work with, but she makes the most of it, almost managing to single-handedly make Breaking In watchable. (It’s definitely watchable by basic cable standards, but does not justify spending actual money on it.)
The movie starts with the vehicular homicide of an old man, Isaac (Damien Leake), who turns out to be Shaun’s estranged father. Now she, with her two kids in tow, must go to Isaac’s remote estate in Wisconsin to settle his affairs and sell his house. The house, by the way, is basically a fortress, and in short order Shaun’s kids are hostages and she is left outside, trying to break into her own house. GET IT?
The bad guys are incredibly generic, with names that don’t register and one of them shows up to do crime in a polo, which begs the question of whether or not this movie had a costume designer, or if everyone was expected to provide their own wardrobe. (There actually isn’t a credited costume designer on IMDB, so.) One of the bad guys is Billy Burke, a person you might recognize. He’s marginally the least stupid of the bad guys, so he is the head bad guy by default. His whole plan hinges on stealing millions from Isaac’s safe before the elaborate security system resets—in ninety minutes!—and the cops are called. It is somewhat baffling that such a high-end, elaborate security system wouldn’t call the cops immediately, but whatever, movie. Things have to happen for a reason, no matter how ill-conceived it may be.
What’s confusing about Breaking In is so many things, one of which is the director, James McTeigue. He’s a graduate of the Wachowski school of filmmaking, and his debut feature film is V for Vendetta. That is, at least, a stylish movie with a personality. Breaking In, however, is not stylish and has no personality. It’s amazing McTeigue went from Vendetta to this. It’s like his spirit has been broken along the way or something.
So Breaking In is not good, though Gabrielle Union is giving it her all. But again, plenty of schlocky thrillers get made for guys like Neeson and Jason Statham. It’s only fair that women get to make schlocky thrillers, too. Equality! (If you want to see a home invasion thriller that isn’t schlocky and features a capable female lead, try You’re Next.) And Breaking In does have Union going for it, though her effort is largely in vain because it’s just so dumb and reminiscent of so many other things. Still, get that woman an action franchise of her own.