Home invasion thrillers feed on the paranoia most of us fear about intruders violating the sanctity of hearth and home. “V for Vendetta” director McTeigue’s lackluster “Breaking In” (* OUT OF ****) ranks as just another generic family-in-jeopardy, nail-biter that rarely generates a single iota of suspense when it ought to. Gabrielle Union plays a self-reliant mom who tenaciously saves her family from a quartet of half-witted hooligans that have broken into her estranged father’s fortress-like estate. Secluded in the woods on 25 acres of woodlands, this sprawling property boasts a security system designed for any contingency. The four goons are searching frantically for a concealed safe and the millions within it when our heroine pulls into the driveway. The impetuous villains have cut the telephone landline to the house, and they now have only about 90-minutes before the default alarm system alerts the authorities about the break-in. Unfortunately, despite its time-driven deadline, “Breaking In” lacks not only spontaneity but also suspense. Basically, Gabrielle Union imitates audacious male heroes often played by Liam Neeson/Bruce Willis/Arnold Schwarzenegger, and she takes the villains by surprise with her ingenuity. Somewhere in Ryan Engle’s screenplay may have existed an exciting, offbeat, and satisfying melodrama. However, when you consider the lowest common denominator quality of “Breaking In,” it is surprising that Ryan Engle penned “Rampage,” “The Commuter,” and “Non-stop.” The shortcomings pile up from the start with villains who belong in a “Three Stooges” farce. The one who isn’t mentally-challenged is a sadistic, homicidal Hispanic who relies on his knife to solve all his problems. After an introductory scene with our heroine’s ill-fated father getting run down and killed, McTeigue and Engle have Union and her kids show up at her estranged father’s palatial mansion. The rest of the movie settles into a predictable, often formulaic exercise in cat-and-mouse antics laden with clichés galore. “Breaking In” appears to have been produced quickly, with little attention to detail. The mother grew up in the mansion that the foursome has occupied, and her familiarity is the chief advantage she enjoys over them. Unfortunately, we never get a genuine sense of geography from the way the filmmakers have staged things. Particularly disappointing is the fact that director McTeigue, who also directed the white-knuckled thriller “Ninja Assassin,” would helm such a sloppy, superficial, second-rate tale.
Mind you, the plot of “Breaking In” is simple. An older African-American male, Isaac (Damien Leake of “Mighty Joe Young”), pauses before he trots off on his regular jogging route through a metropolitan city on sidewalks. He jogs without a care in the world. You’d have to be distracted, texting on your cell phone, or simply not paying attention not to guess that poor Isaac is about to suffer grievous bodily harm. As he crosses across an intersection, a Dodge pick-up truck with a bedcover materializes out of nowhere and smashes into him. The impact propels Isaac’s tumbling body backwards up over the hood, atop the cab, and across the bedcover to splat in a crumpled heap in the street. Naturally, nobody is around to witness either the hit & run or the goon who emerges from the Dodge to make sure Isaac is dead. Of course, we aren’t allowed to see the face of the Dodge driver. However, he does deliver a crushing, coup-de-grace of a blow to Isaac’s face with his foot that nobody could survive. Later, we learn Isaac has been under investigation by the District Attorney, has liquidated $4 million, and stashed that fortune up in a safe somewhere on the premises. Eddie (Billy Burke of the “Lights Out”) and three other simple-minded ruffians with a fistful of marbles between them have cut the telephone line. Now, they must locate the safe and empty it out before the off-line security system notifies the police. As it happens, they have a bit of luck. Isaac’s grown-up daughter, Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union of “Cradle 2 The Grave”), has arrived with her two children–teenage daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus of “Acrimony”) and middle-schooler Glover (Seth Carr of “Terminator Genisys”), and has entered the premises. She has come to clean out the house before listing it on the market. Shaun’s workaholic husband Justin (Jason George of “Barbershop”) is swamped with paperwork, so he couldn’t join them. Shaun and her kids are settling into the house when she notices items that seem conspicuously out of place. Initially, Shaun tangles with Eddie’s tech guru, Peter (Mark Furze of “I Can Only Imagine”), in a choke hold, but she gains the upper hand. Shaun subdues him, but fear racks her because Eddie has taken her kids as hostages. Basically, Shaun exploits her vast knowledge of the house to enter and leave it whenever she likes without the villains having a clue.
Gabrielle Union, listed as a producer, delivers a strong, dynamic performance that keeps her scrambling for her life, and she plays an intelligent character. The problem is we have no way of knowing if Shaun is just plain lucky or if she has survived similar experiences. All we know is she is a mom with a mother’s fierce love for her cubs. We are told she left her father after the death of her mother, but everything else is left unsaid. As for the villains, these four intruders give criminals a bad name. The villains are sketches of evil, and only one knows how to crack a safe. The team leader (Billy Burke’s Eddie) displays poor skills as the head honcho. He doesn’t take advantage of the young hostages. Moreover, he doesn’t command the respect of his own henchmen. Richard Cabral’s Mexican knife-expert Duncan looks only a shade less lethal than Charles Manson. Indeed, the mistrust and treachery among these villains turns out to be another advantage than our heroine exploits. Since it is a PG-13 rated movie, the villains are not allowed to carve up or shoot either the teenage daughter or the middle-school son. Altogether, “Breaking In” is a bust!