It’s surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to re-engineer David Fincher’s Panic Room to be about breaking in to save your family instead of hiding to save them, but director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin) has made sure that the resulting film, the Gabrielle Union-starring Breaking In, is a total letdown.
I can’t overstate how much of a colossal fuck-up this is — you’re given the ingredients to make a modern-day genre classic, and this is what you do with it? The best part about it is that it’s only a quick 88 minutes (even shorter than that actually, given the credits). McTeigue has always made films with diminishing returns, but they’ve never felt as slight as this.
Union plays Shaun Russell, a mild-mannered mother of two, who, after the death of her supposedly criminal estranged father (this plot point, aside from providing a good reason for him to have a shitload of cash in the house, is never really explained in any meaningful fashion, so forgive the confusion), has to go with her kids to clean out his house up in Malibu. After a long day’s work, Shaun just wants to unwind with a glass of wine and order a pizza, but a group of four burglars — comprised of a mastermind (Billy Burke), a tech guy, a unhinged criminal that comes dangerously close to an awkward racial stereotype, and a blond-haired blue-eyed dude with a conscience — have other plans, and they proceed to use her dad’s high-tech security system to trap her kids inside the house with them. She’ll have to start picking them off one by one, because these guys mean business and will murk her kids if things start getting hairy. You’ve seen a movie before, so you probably know how this goes.
McTeigue’s direction is flat and lifeless in the way that most Lifetime movies would be ashamed to be, and scenes of dramatic importance, when Union has to plead for her kids’ lives, or ones intended to thrill, like when Union has to cling to the side of a stairwell in order to avoid capture, land with a thud (that’s especially true when the film makes a ugly shift towards the rapey near the end of the film, which comes out of nowhere and leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth once the credits roll). The criminals are all idiots, even when they’re trying to show off how smart and badass they are, and the only person who comes out of this even remotely looking good is Union, who makes a great case for why she should star in more action films. She’s strong and intimidating, with a decent wit, and some of the more nebulous psychological aspects of her character, like how she’s essentially fighting off her father’s demons while literally cleaning out his house, land exclusively because she knows how to read a scene.
Here’s a tip: Literally look at the poster and that dope tagline, “Payback is a Mother,” and imagine yourself an unhinged and fun thriller that’s actually directed by someone who can stage and edit a scene. That’ll save you the $11 you’ll pay to see Breaking In, and a whole lot of disappointment.