There is one perfect moment in “Breaking In” that one goes to see a movie like “Breaking In” for and it comes relatively early on. Gabrielle Union’s character, Shaun, has found herself under attack in the driveway where she’d been attempting to order pizza for her two kids. She’s unaware that her son and daughter already have been grabbed by the home invaders. She’s shoeless, surprised and on interminable hold with the pizza place when the attack happens. But, she also has just accidentally broken her wine glass and, so, as resourceful ladies are wont to do, stabs the guy in the chest with the stem.
Thankfully she’d had the chance to gulp down the contents first, which might actually not be a bad idea for the audience either. Happy Mother’s Day, folks, your house is under attack and your kids are being held hostage. Are your “mama bear” instincts up to the task?
Union proves more than capable of nailing her Liam Neeson/Bruce Willis moment of save-your-family action stardom, but the movie has trouble sustaining interest even over its brisk 88 minutes. Directed by James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”) and written by Ryan Engle (“Non-Stop”), “Breaking In” is basically “Panic Room” in reverse, but less clever and thrilling than that Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart yarn.
In “Breaking In,” Union, as Shaun and her son Glover (Seth Carr) and teenage daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) are on a little weekend trip to her late father’s Wisconsin mansion to collect some belongings and meet the real estate agent. “This place is a fortress,” someone actually says as they explore the intense security system that her tech-savvy son explains is so easy to use that even Mom could do it (hey, perhaps that’ll come in handy later).
Shaun’s estranged father dies in the opening scene in an intentional hit-and-run, amid a barely explained DA investigation. But no one seems to care or be too curious about that.
It’s why the four burglars assumed that there won’t be anyone in the house when they picked this night to find a safe that they’ve been told contains $4 million in cash. Why they couldn’t just come back another night instead of getting themselves involved in an escalating hostage crisis isn’t something the movie is interested in exploring, either. They’d already gone through all the trouble of getting there and cutting the phone lines, I guess. So the leader, Eddie (Billy Burke), the frosted-tipped and morally conflicted Sam (Levi Meaden), the psychotic Duncan (Richard Cabral) and the ex-military Peter (Mark Furze) decide that the best course of action is to kidnap the kids, hunt down the mom and play it by ear as to whether or not to kill them.
Shaun is put through the wringer as she attempts to break back into the house to get her kids and take control of the situation, which quickly starts to feel repetitive. If only the script were a little better. Burke seems unwilling to go full campy villain, instead playing it straight even though every other line of dialogue is him psychoanalyzing Shaun’s mom drive. (“Fear I can manage, desperation is a whole other thing” and “Moms don’t run, not when their babies are trapped in the nest” are just a few of the gems).
He also often goes back to the refrain that he’s pretty impressed with her determination and how he “knows” that everyone underestimates her. I suppose it’s the sort of line that women are supposed to relate to in general, maybe, but you also start to realize that you know nothing about Shaun — occupation, interests, life, exercise regimen. Do people underestimate her? Did he? Were we supposed to?
It’s telling about the level of thought put into this story and script, but, again, “Breaking In” is not necessarily even trying to live up those standards, and despite all odds and everything going on around her, Union sells it. Maybe we did underestimate her after all.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by James McTeigue and written by Ryan Engle. Rated PG-13 (for violence, menace, bloody images, sexual references, and brief strong language). Running time: 88 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.