Breaking In, a low-budget thriller that never turns its limits into strengths, would love to be compared to Panic Room, Taken or Die Hard, three films it clearly hopes to emulate. But it's so thoroughly stupid and unsurprising that it would be lucky to be compared to a lackluster sequel to the latter two films.
Gabrielle Union, previously shuffled into any number of interchangeable ensemble comedies, gets a lead role as Shaun, a mom headed up to her rich, distant father's remote estate. She's brought her two annoying kids, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr), to help her pack up the remaining things to get the house ready to sell. While the house has sat empty for a while, she immediately notices things out of place. Soon enough, a quartet of thieves has tied up the kids and has her on the run.
They're there to steal $4 million in cash hidden in a safe, somewhere in this massive house that's basically a fortress, as it's got a high-tech security system. The movie really blows its premise right here, because most of Shaun's tactics involve breaking light bulbs, cutting power or disabling features, all of which miraculously work when she needs to trick one of the bad guys.
There's an air of inevitability to all this, since the movie's only mean enough to kill one accidental visitor, and merely scare the family members. Billy Burke, best known as Bella's dad in the Twilight series, is the only thief who gives anything resembling a decent performance, but it's mostly repeating pat lines like "Find her!" and "We'll do what we have to do to get this money." The other three barely register, and the one Latino in the crew (Richard Cabral) is supposed to be menacing, but mostly elicited laughter from the audience I saw it with.
It's a real downfall for everyone involved, especially writer Ryan Engle, whose three films this year have gotten progressively worse. The Commuter was a solid late-period Liam Neeson movie, and Rampage was almost a good video game adaptation, but Breaking In is a contender for the worst movie of the year so far. And director James McTiegue, who made promising work with the Wachowskis (V for Vendetta, Sense8), can't bring any visual style or sense of space to this closed-quarters thriller. The film even struggles to fill its brief running time, with characters seemingly resurrected or making dumb decisions to pad out the last 15 minutes.
Breaking In could have been a fun, entertaining thriller. But like the huge mansion where it spends most of its runtime, it's basically empty.