Producer: Will Packer, Gabrielle Union, James Lopez, Craig Perry and Sheila Hanahan Taylor
Director: James McTeigue
Writer: Ryan Engle
Stars: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Ajiona Alexus, Levi Meaden, Mark Furze, Jason George, Seth Karr, Christa Miller and Damian Leake
Studio: Universal Pictures
Last year Halle Berry took extreme measures to save her child in “Kidnap,” and now Gabrielle Union does much the same to rescue her kids in this violent action thriller. Unlike the earlier picture, which mostly took place on the road, “Breaking In” is a home invasion tale, but the grizzly mom theme is the same.
The movie begins with a hit-and-run killing on a Chicago street. Issac (Damian Leake) is run down and then finished off by the driver. It turns out he was the estranged father of Shaun Russell (Union), and a crooked businessman who had removed his ill-gotten gains from his investment funds before the feds could impound them. His killers are after the dough, and have information that he’d hidden it all in a safe in his Wisconsin vacation home.
Meanwhile Shaun and her two kids, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Karr), are on their way to the house to meet realtor Maggie (Christa Miller) to arrange its sale. When they get there and settle in, however, they’re taken prisoner by the killers—a quartet that includes wimpy blonde pretty boy Sam (Levi Meaden), sadistic thug Duncan (Richard Cabral), nondescript Peter (Mark Furze) and their leader, steely-eyed Eddie (Billy Burke). Shaun escapes, however, and determines to free her kids at any cost. Her efforts are hobbled, however, by the fact that the house is equipped with the most advanced security measures available, though the tables will turn when she gains control of the place and the villains find themselves on the outside.
What keeps the silly plot of “Breaking In” running is the fact that the quartet of bad guys are such an blundering, incompetent bunch; despite Eddie’s repeated acknowledgement that Shaun is a formidable opponent, it’s their ineptitude that allows the movie to grind on repetitively. They’ve arrived at the place without knowing the location of Isaac’s safe, and have to scour the joint to find it; and though we’re repeatedly told that a security firm’s people will arrive in ninety minutes, they abandon the search over and over again to threaten the Russells or simply debate among themselves about what to do. Shaun, by contrast, is the sort of scrappy, spunky person who never says die, even when she’s up against a wall or tree getting throttled. The kids are no slouches at outwitting their captors, either, even when they’re trussed up.
The result is a cat-and-mouse game in which the cats seem about as adept as Sylvester chasing Tweety or Tom stalking Jerry. And though there’s considerable violence against the three captives—Shaun suffers the brunt of it, though Jasmine and Glover don’t entirely escape—Ryan Engel’s script has to introduce other characters to boost the mayhem to obligatory genre levels. So poor Maggie shows up to serve as a sacrificial victim, and at what appears to be the narrative’s end point, who should drop by but Shaun’s husband Justin (Jason George)? But this is mommy’s movie, and it’s certainly not daddy who will save the day.
“Breaking In” is competently made—director James McTeigue, cameraman Toby Oliver and editor Joeph Jett Sally wring what tension they can muster from the feeble premise, and production designer Cece Destafano makes the house a sleekly threatening locale. Union holds nothing back and the kids are an agreeable pair. But Burke and Cabral can do little but glower, strike menacing poses and bark out threats, while Meaden exudes callowness but little more.
Ultimately, the movie resembles nothing more than one of those TV movies-of-the-week that ABC used to churn out decades ago—a thin, silly premise stretched out to an hour and half through the unlikeliest of twists. It’s being released for Mother’s Day, but one must question whether taking mom to see it will be evidence of your affection.