Tag Archives: C-

BREAKING IN

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

C-

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—James McTeigue, cameraman Toby Oliver and editorJoeph 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.

LIFE OF THE PARTY

Producer: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy and Chris Henchy
Director: Ben Falcone
Writer: Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs, Luke Benward, Julie Bowen, Matt Walsh, Adria Arjona, Jessie Ennis, Debby Ryan, Jacki Weaver, Stephen Root, Chris Parnell and Christina Aguilera
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

C-

In the inaccurately titled “Life of the Party,” Melissa McCarthy follows in the footsteps of Rodney Dangerfield and Bing Crosby, among others, in playing what today is referred to as an untraditional college student. Unfortunately, she fares no better than her predecessors did; the anemic comedy does not earn a passing grade, though one might well cheer when she—and it—graduate and the final credits roll.

Written by McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone (who also directed), the picture is a wish-fulfillment fantasy about how a long-time homebody finds self-fulfillment by completing her long-delayed college degree after being dumped by her dopey husband. Deanna Miles (McCarthy) is just tearfully dropping off her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) for her senior year at Dunbar University when hubby Dan (Matt Walsh) announces that he’s leaving her for snooty realtor Marcie (Julie Bower). After visiting briefly with her parents (Jacki Weaver and Stephen Root), she decides to enroll at Dunbar herself, finishing off the final year she needs to complete her degree in Archeology, an accomplishment that will certainly open up the myriad job opportunities she’ll need to make it on her own. (The choice of fields was apparently made merely to allow Deanna and goofy Professor Truzack, an ex-classmate of hers played by Chris Parnell, to trade bad puns.)

This introductory segment of the movie is pretty pallid, generating few laughs though McCarthy and Maya Rudolph, as her acerbic best friend Christine, work overtime trying to raise a few. From the moment she sets foot on campus, though, the picture turns into a series of comic sketches based on absurd coincidences and incredible implausibility.

So we watch Deanna embarrass her daughter in front of her sorority sisters, until the girl comes around (along with the other members of her crew) to support her mom unconditionally. We then see Deanna get a makeover, and the gals triumphing at a frat party done up in eighties style, where a spruced-up Deanna wins a dance-off against campus mean girl Jennifer (Debby Ryan). But that’s not all: she unaccountably catches the eye of hunky Jack (Luke Benward), and before long the two are having sex in the library stacks.

In other tangents, Deanne tries to bond with her dorm roommate Leonor, a weird girl with a vampire streak that makes her avoid the sunlight. And Deanna suffers a meltdown—quite literally—when required to give an oral report in Truzack’s class (a sequence that goes on entirely too long). An inebriated Deanne and Christine play a game of handball. They also trade insults with Marcie and Dan in a divorce mediation session, and again in a restaurant (where a truly embarrassing revelation occurs—one of the sitcom coincidences scripts like this traffic in). Then Deanna and her sorority pals utterly trash Dan and Marcie’s wedding reception.

And one can’t forget the plot thread involving sorority gal Helen (Gillian Jacobs), who’s a bit older that her sisters because she’d been in a coma for eight years, and became an on-line celebrity because of it. That’s a pretty tasteless bit on its own, but it plays (as does another astounding coincidence involving Leonor) into the big finale, in which singer Christina Aguilera appears as herself.

If all this seems pretty ramshackle, it is. There’s a vaudeville quality to the succession of bits, which is italicized by the fact that all of them drag on too long, a sign of both Falcone’s lackadaisical approach, which overindulges McCarthy’s inclination to mug, and the equally lethargic editing of Brian Olds.

Still, one can’t deny McCarthy’s energy, or the equally no-holds-barred efforts of Rudolph to jazz things up. There are also committed bits by Weaver and Root as Deanna’s parents, though Parnell’s portrait of a dotty professor is bland. The younger actors fare worse; this is a particularly wan group of undergrads, with Jessie Ennis’ clueless Debbie and Ryan’s pouty mean girl especially irritating, though Benward’s besotted Jack is the biggest oddity in the bunch. The technical side of things, including Julio Macat’s cinematography, is okay but unremarkable.

“Life of the Party” struggles to make good on the title, but its slapdash mixture of frantic farce and gooey sentiment proves another McCarthy misfire.