2018, PG-13, 88 min. Directed by James McTeigue. Starring Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Ajiona Alexus, Seth Carr, Levi Meaden, Mark Furze, Jason George.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., May 18, 2018
Mamma Mia! One day a self-sacrificing Joan Crawford is taking the rap for her bratty daughter in the melodramatic film noir Mildred Pierce, the next Faye Dunaway is channeling her as she hysterically swats yet another bratty daughter with a coat hanger in the jaw-dropping Mommie Dearest. More often than not, today’s movie mom takes her cue from Sigourney Weaver’s ferocious lioness in Aliens, a force of nature who’ll stop at nothing to protect her cubs. In the better-than-expected home invasion thriller Breaking In, a plucky Gabrielle Union (who also co-produced the film) plays an ordinary mom faced with the unimaginable task of rescuing her two children from a crew of burglars holding them hostage in her late father’s isolated lake house. With more than a passing nod to the far classier Panic Room, this derivative seat-squirmer has a few good moments in spite of Johnny Klimick’s annoying score, its energy powered by the raw determination of its Mother Courage. Union’s Shaun Russell may not possess the superhuman powers of Wonder Woman, but she’s a formidable adversary nonetheless, a fearsome warrior armed with a fierce maternal instinct serving as both a weapon and a shield.
Like other movies of the kind, improbabilities litter the screenplay written by currently hot genre-meister Ryan Engle (The Commuter, Non-Stop), yet they don’t spoil the fun to the point of distraction. (But don’t get me started on the “What about the cell phone?” question.) The movie wastes little time on exposition before the action starts, the only meaningful piece of information imparted beforehand being the hit-and-run murder of Shaun’s father, a wealthy man under investigation by the Chicago D.A. for some unknown criminal activity. A secluded getaway in the Wisconsin woods is a manifestation of the dead man’s fear and paranoia while alive, a tricked-out fortress of surveillance cameras, motion detectors, electronic deadbolts, bulletproof glass, and motorized window coverings that make the house a near impenetrable bastion. The most gratifying moments in the film come when an on-the-outside-looking-in Shaun uses this technology to turn the tables on the bad guys in pursuit of a safe full of money, messing with them much in the way a cat toys with a mouse before she pounces.
The intruders are a mixed bag, criminally speaking, physically and characteristically distinguishable from each other so you don’t get confused about the degree to which you’re supposed to dislike each of them. As the mastermind of the botched burglary, cool cucumber Billy Burke speaks most of his dialogue in sotto voce, first making condescending assessments about Shaun’s capability to fight for her children as if he were an expert on motherhood, and then later congratulating her for exceeding his expectations. But when this sexism turns uncomfortably sadistic in the movie’s home stretch, it becomes clear why all of these greedy men must pay for their avarice, in one way or another. Bring it on, sister, bring it on.