Movie Review: ‘BREAKING IN’ – Panic Womb

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

BREAKING IN

Rated PG-13, 88 minutes
Directed by: James McTeigue
Starring: Gabrielle UnionBilly BurkeRichard Cabral, Ajiona Alexus, Seth Carr, Levi Meaden, Mark Furze, Christa Miller, Jason George, Damien Leake

Generally speaking, the worst movies exist for a reason. It could be the filmmakers wanted to do something inventive narratively or aesthetically. Maybe the project is driven purely by who is working on it. But there’s always an intention behind what we’re seeing. With exception of the powerful presence of its leading lady, director James McTeigue’s BREAKING IN offers audiences nothing – and with little promise, there’s no reward.

Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union) is headed to clean out her estranged father’s sprawling estate over the weekend with her two kids – Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr) – in tow. Her dad died under mysterious circumstances and was embroiled in a money laundering scheme. Naturally, a gang of criminals – led by Eddie (Billy Burke) – has caught wind there’s a safe containing $4 million somewhere in the house and, unbeknownst to the Russells, they’ve already set up shop trying to find it. It doesn’t take long before mama bear is separated from her cubs and she’s forced to fight her way back into the secure smart house.

It would be one thing if the McTeigue and screenwriter Ryan Engle sold the audience on the premise of “What if a bunch of criminals messed with the wrong mom?,” but they don’t. It’s a combination of other ho-hum “what ifs” like “What if they messed with a regular mom?” and “What if instead of breaking out, she has to break in?” What if…. no one cares? They don’t bring anything fresh to the home invasion genre. Shaun’s husband (Jason George) might as well be named “Mr. Exposition Contrivance,” but they shorten it to “Justin.” They try to bring sexism and gender politics into the escalating mayhem, but it’s a ham-handed attempt – simply because they lack follow-through and, let’s face it, the skills. Plus, there’s a lazy threat of rape in the third act that’s more ridiculous than lascivious.

Gabrielle Union in BREAKING IN. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

While it doesn’t waste any time in the first act at setting the stage for the ensuing chaos, swiftly moving from room to room, getting the audience and the protagonists acclimated to the home’s inner-workings and physical layout, the remaining two-thirds mercilessly drags. It’s mostly the criminal crew bumbling around – not looking for the safe, but looking for Shaun, who’s taken to screwing with them in the dumbest of manners. For example, she leaves the water in an outside sink running, which lures one of the criminals out of the home. Why does he care? He’s not footing the water bill. She also submerges the home’s fuses in that sink, but he magically dries them and puts them back in without getting electrocuted.

Aesthetically, this is also a failure. Toby Oliver’s cinematography is too brightly lit and slick, providing a weird, off-putting juxtaposition. There’s some ropey CGI involving the drone Glover plays with that’s only highlighted by the effused light in the home. Things then sour further when the aforementioned power is cut and it’s lit by red lights. There’s also nothing unique about how the film is photographed or staged.

It’s clear that McTeigue and Engle think they’re making a spin on David Fincher’s PANIC ROOM. The influence is obvious, except that it lacks all of the craft and care of its inspiration. The trio in the house are a different combination of those in Fincher’s film, but are executed with far less wit and cleverness. The awkward dialogue and interpersonal relationships are maddeningly generic. Eddie can barely command his crew’s respect, so why should he command ours? Levi Meaden, who plays the too-blonde parolee Sam, apes Jared Leto’s bleached locks in FIGHT CLUB – not his cornrows in PANIC ROOM. Instead of a layered character like Forest Whitaker’s “Burnham,” or the cut-throat personality of Dwight Yoakim’s “Raoul,” we get a one-note stereotype with Duncan (Richard Cabral). This movie makes audiences wish they were seeing the Fincher movie that Union (who is admirably giving it her all) thinks she’s starring in – and that’s a genuinely depressing feeling.

Without any sense of fun, tension, thrills, swiftness or visual panache, audiences will want to get out of BREAKING IN.

Grade: D-

BREAKING IN opens on May 11.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.