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Review: Breaking In

by Chris Feil

Twist a tried-and-true subgenre like the home invasion movie with just the slightest bit of invention and we’re intrigued - like say, the homeowners are the one who have to do the invading. Add in relatable context for emotional investment - motherly instincts, forging one’s own family unit after estrangement, female badassery. Sign up a dependable actress like Gabrielle Union and you have a formula for easy popcorn thrills and a rewarding opportunity for an underutilized actress to take center stage.

How has Hollywood not yet realized that Union is a star, and one we want to watch take revenge on a slew of bad guys with her poise and no-bullshit wit? Thank you, I'll have five. But Breaking In is only half of that movie.

As constructed by director James McTeigue and screenwriter Ryan Engle, the film is a paint by numbers thriller before the crayon box has been cracked open. Union is Shaun, a mother of two arriving at the secluded childhood mansion to prepare for its sale, unaware of the stocked safe her estranged and now deceased criminal father has hidden inside. When three flunkies arrive to get the cash, Shaun is locked outside the high tech home with her children endangered inside. Without much information on Shaun beneath the surface and near laughable villains, the film is quite a bit too lazy to capitalize on the gifts its been given in Union and its specific angle on a familiar premise.

The bummer of Breaking In is its near complete flubbing of its b-movie and action star vehicle potential. Union is a charismatic and undervalued actress, a performer that we could actually get excited to have a hard-hitting acioner shaped around her effortless watchability. But the film isn’t the “Gabrielle Union kicks ass” movie you now crave more than ever, and it oddly pushes her to the sidelines of the second act in favor of the film’s snarling, uncompelling goons. Union remains entirely engaging and does eventually get to dole out punishment like we were promised (and with a delightfully cheesy use of the One “Fuck” rule), but the movie offers background gaps for Shaun too large to be filled by Union’s substantial screen presence. This isn’t the star vehicle she at-long-last deserves.

By focusing on the villains, the film doesn’t nearly flip the home invasion film on its head as it thinks it does. They are stakes free and rather dull dudes with guns and knives, and our time spent with them makes it all the more torturous that it’s taking so long for Shaun to dispatch them. At some point, you just want her to creatively punish these morons already. Once it comes and we get the movie we signed up for, its delights are digestible candy but not particularly inspired. There’s simply a lot of fun left unindulged until the finale, and it’s a bit too late for the film to really delight us.

Oddly, the film also suffers from an over-sanitized approach to its violent material. The film can’t escape the feeling of being the edited-for-television version, which means all violence occurs offscreen or out of frame in haphazard, seemingly accidental fashion. It’s a strangely untense visual experience, and while delight in violence for the sake of entertainment is a fine line before tumbling into inappropriateness, this film is almost too timid to approach the line to generate much menace. The thinness with which the criminals are drawn and the film’s evident cheapness keep the threat level here to a minimum.

While Breaking In does ultimately make good on actual thrills late in the game and Union does her best to elevate the film, it’s ultimately a disappointment. Like a hyped fight that ends on a technicality in the first round.

Grade: C

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Reader Comments (3)

Easier for filmmakers to avoid a battle with the ratings board for the PG-13 they're aiming for by staging the violence with no intent of really showing anything.

Nonwhite actresses are no priority to Hollywood that's why they're undervalued and underutilized. Union deserves better but you need to have better filmmakers willing to use her. They envision women who look nothing like her when they decide to make a movie starring a woman.

May 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Is a great film? I would like to know a difference between this cinema

June 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTina


July 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnton

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