It would sure be traumatic to be stuck in a house that is being burgled.

Mothers are known for summoning hidden reserves of strength and resourcefulness when threatened.

The two preceding statements are the major assumptions of Breaking In. Obviously, neither is some grand revelation, nor does anyone involved treat them that way. And it is not like these ideas have never been dramatized on film before. Ergo, this is a movie whose success depends entirely on its execution. And on that score, it is competent but not terribly unique.

Gabrielle Union defiantly takes the lead as Shaun, who heads with her two kids (Ajiona Alexus, Seth Carr) to her recently deceased wealthy father’s mansion to settle his estate. Soon enough they realize they are not alone. Weirdly, a significant portion of Breaking In’s DNA turns out to be a comedy of errors due to miscommunication: Shaun was hardly on speaking terms with her dad, while one of the burglars got bad intel from the assistant he was shtupping that the house was going to be empty, and now they are all stuck in this mess together.

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It initially seems like the major hook is going to be how the mansion’s state-of-the-art security system will affect the geography of this ordeal, but that element is never really utilized to amp up the tension. Instead, whether on purpose or accidentally (likely a mixture of both), it works best humorously, with ill-fated attempts to bust down walls and windows more likely to elicit laughs than screams.

Director James McTeigue is probably best known for his collaborations with the Wachowski siblings (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin, Sense8), which hints at the possibility of a subversive streak, but it remains just that: a hint. At one point leader of the burglars Billy Burke scoffs at the bounty he has uncovered, “So, that’s what the American Dream looks like.” Perhaps Breaking In has something more deep on its mind than it initially lets on, but that is never elaborated.

Thus whatever entertainment value there is on offer must come from the performances. Union is strikingly steely, and more than capable of a leading role, but the script never really offers her anything unique to sink her teeth into. Burke is perfectly adequate, but it is the (unintentional?) campiness of his henchmen that are destined to stick in the mind. Richard Cabral, all tatted up and maximally slimy, would be much more at home if this were Z-grade instead of B-grade shlock, while Levi Meaden is almost charmingly innocent as he guilelessly delivers lines like “Nice! You found the safe.” A pissed-off mother is more than enough to defeat these guys. A well-timed arched eyebrow probably could have done the trick just as well.

Starring: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Ajiona Alexus, Seth Carr, Richard Cabral, Levi Meaden, Jason George

Director: James McTeigue

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Throat Slitting and Punching (With Just a Few Gory Close-Ups), the Threat of Explosions, and a Dash of Psychopathy

Release Date: May 11, 2018

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