“Breaking In” is heavy on action fun, light on substance

Nutshell: Looking for a movie that has action, but doesn’t tax the ol’ brainpan? Well look no further. Union is fantastic as the mom who has to save her kids, but other than the usual action tidbits there’s little else here. Turn your brain off and enjoy. Grade: C+ (the plus is for Gabrielle Union, who can do no wrong in my eyes.)

“But there’s nothing you can do. You’re a woman.”

Story: When Shaun Russell’s father dies in an “accident”, she takes her two kids up to the house she grew up in to get it ready to sell. Did I mention that this house is super huge and awesome?  And that it’s got a space-age security system?  And four criminals inside that don’t want anyone to know what they’re doing? Well, before too long Shaun finds herself locked out of the house, with her kids inside…and the criminals trying to use them as leverage. Wonder Mom Powers, activate!

Genre I’d put it in: Fun Lightweight Actioners

Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Original.

Gotta say: I love a good action throwdown. I love Gabrielle Union. I even love Billy Burke (Revolution), who plays the lead baddie here. But Breaking In is only so-so in my eyes. While the action was enjoyable as hell, the story itself was, to steal from the maître d’ in The Meaning of Life, wafer thin. And with Union’s Shaun Russell MacGyver-ing her way through this film, there were plenty of ways to flesh things out. Ways not taken, sadly.

The premise of the story – that the criminals have ninety minutes to get in, open the safe, grab the loot and get out – is an interesting one. But it’s the longest ninety minutes ever, even though the film itself runs just under that. While director James McTeigue is great with the action, his sense of story timing is a bit off. In the confines of the story’s timeframe, time feels stretched, to where I was sure the action had been going on for hours within the story. But nope. Still hitting the time-frame (spoiler: the cops come at the very end of the movie, and even then we only hear the faint wail of sirens.)

Union delivers on the action hero premise though. Shaun is terrified, but determined, and Union manages to convey a lot in facial expressions and body posture. To be honest there’s not much else to communicate, as the script is scant in expository dialogue. Which is a pity; the story tells us that she grew up in that huge house with only her father around. She rode horses, and…there was a great opening to show that little Shaun spent a lot of time training exercising, because she had hints of what her father really did for a living. But ah well, missed opportunities. Would have made for a great flashback, and lord knows Union could play Teen Shaun with no trouble, as I don’t think this woman has aged a day since Bring It On.

As far as the bad guys go, they’re the usual cookie-cutter tropes. There’s the Crazy Latino (Richard Cabral, channeling his inner nutter), the Clueless Twink (Levi Madden, all wet-eyed and worried), the Computer Guy (Mark Furze, barely fleshed out character-wise) and Billy Burke as The Brains. It’s fun to watch these guys do a Three Stooges riff as Shaun does her thing. It’s especially fun to watch Cabral pull out all the stops; his eyes practically bug out ala Roger Rabbit as he gets more and more nutso.

The kids – played by Ajiona Alexus (13 Reasons Why) and Seth Carr (little Killmonger in Black Panther) – are adorable (naturally) and have a sweet but believable onscreen bond. Though Alexus’ Jasmine got on my very last nerve when the action started. Seems Jasmine goes to school at What Not To Do During A Horror Movie Prep. But as the movie goes on, her charcter gets better at dealing with things. It’s the closest thing to character development you’ll see here.

Still, the action in Breaking makes things fun. Shaun is no dummy, and the huge house with its various hallways and sections help add to the suspense by giving the characters a whole lot of space to move (and hide in.) There are also the requisite “runs to hide as someone enters” moments that are good for a chuckle, easing tension. However, there’s not much here past the boom-pow and light suspense. It’s a story so basic you can watch with one eye, which will make it perfect for at-home Netflix viewing.

One last quibble: the end credits took quite a while to get scrolling.  There was a full blackout for at least a minute, leaving viewers at my screening wondering if there’d be more coming.  What can I say, we live in a post-MCU world y’all.  But nope, nothing else. Good to see, because the story is wrapped up by the end. What?  You’d think that Union going all Death Wish on the bad guys would end unhappily?  Y’all.  Y’ALL.

#Protip: Think Gabrielle Union really gets her action on here?  She sure does. And that’s no surprise, as she was an athlete (track, soccer, and basketball) back in school.

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