[Screen It]


(2018) (Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Thriller: A mother tries to break into a high-tech, smart home where her two children are being held hostage by three criminals.
Shaun Russell (GABRIELLE UNION) is a wife and mother of two kids, teenager Jasmine (AJIONA ALEXUS) and younger brother Glover (SETH CARR), who recently learned of the death of her estranged father, Isaac (DAMIEN LEAKE). The man was wealthy on account of some apparent illegal activity and has, unbeknownst to Shaun, stashed $4 million in liquidated cash at the remote Wisconsin estate she has just inherited. Shaun travels with her two kids to the wooded retreat to get it ready for sale. What she finds is a smart home with the latest in safe house technology -- everything from an alarm system to motion-activated interior and exterior lights to cameras covering nearly every angle of the residence outside and in.

Also unbeknownst to her, four criminals are also in the large house when she and the kids get there. They know of the $4 million in cash. They just don't know the location of the safe holding the money. The leader is Eddie (BILLY BURKE), a smooth criminal who rarely loses his cool. His cohorts are Peter (MARK FURZE), an expert safecracker; Sam (LEVI MEADEN), a sensitive ex-con; and Duncan (RICHARD CABRAL), the sadistic muscle of the crew, who has no problem killing.

While Shaun tangles with Peter in the adjacent woods, Eddie and the rest of his gang take Jasmine and Glover hostage and seal up the house. It's up to Shaun to figure out a way to defeat the home's high-tech security defenses and rescue her son and daughter. At the same time, two people are scheduled to come to the house that night -- her husband, Justin (JASON GEORGE, and local Realtor Maggie (CHRISTA MILLER) -- who may or may not make the situation worse.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Even at 88 minutes, "Breaking In" somehow seems more drawn-out than the nearly three-hour "Avengers: Infinity War." When I saw the running time, I was hoping for a tight, lean, menacing little thriller in which Gabrielle Union's Shaun Russell attempts to break into a smart house in which her two kids are being held hostage by three crooks there to rob the joint.

It's a reverse "Panic Room," of course, in which Jodie Foster and her daughter (a young Kristen Stewart) hole themselves up inside a house while robbers try and get in. And the film even duplicates the differing personalities of the baddies like that flick did. There is the cool, calm, methodical leader Eddie (Billy Burke). There's the sensitive Sam (Levi Meaden), who thought it was just going to be a heist and doesn't want to harm a mother and her two kids. There's the unhinged psychopath Duncan (Richard Cabral), who's the guy with the knife who loves to yell "They've seen our faces, man!!!" And there's the nondescript safecracker of the group, Peter (Mark Furze), who ah, Peter. You just know he's not long for this film the second you see him on screen.

This is basically Union getting a hand-me-down from Halle Berry. For the most part, she runs with it. She plays the fierce, protective mother hen to her two trapped and scared chicks (Seth Carr and Ajiona Alexus) well. But the film has to go to such great lengths to explain why none of them can use a mobile phone, why Shaun just doesn't go for police help, why the crooks don't just end it quickly by threatening the kids' lives, etc.

At 88 minutes, the film gets into its thriller predicament way too quick, too. The first act of the film should have been set up, showing us the layout and quirks of the house, Shaun learning the high-tech ins and outs of her father's smart home technology, and so forth. Instead, when all of the cat-and-mouse hijinks start, we don't have a good lay of the land of either the interior or the exterior of the estate. It's a cheat on director James McTeigue's part because then he can manipulate the action however he sees fit.

The same goes for the tech. It seems the house is always losing power or wires are being clipped or circuit breakers are being thrown. But the cameras keep working. The sensors also still seem operable. It's explained early on that the security company will respond within 90 minutes of loss of power. But the Russells' ordeal seems to go on much longer than that.

The film is geared for a largely female audience. But the large numbers I saw this film with in preview definitely had an issue with how many times Union gets punched and brutalized in this flick. Late in the film, one of the crooks tries to rape Shaun's teenage daughter, too, which seemed crass for a flick that had been a mostly standard PG-13 thriller to that point.

Still, I can't deny that in stretches, the film was involving. It's one of those flicks I kept rooting for to work and be better. It never really rose above mediocrity. But it's a cut above Lifetime Network Movie of the Week status ... but only barely and only because of Union. I give it a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed May 9, 2018 / Posted May 11, 2018

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