'Breaking In' Is Not The Badass Mom Thriller We (Or Gabrielle Union) Deserve

It was just last summer when Halle Berry's Karla Dyson took matters into her own hands when she jumped into her minivan and chased down a pair of villains who abducted her son in Kidnap. That marked the first time in far too long that we saw a woman of color — and "of a certain age" — centralized as a badass hero and a mom on the big screen. She was no longer merely the sidekick or the villain the main character (usually a white actress) knocks off within the film's first 30 minutes. She was the star.

I felt a similar sense of progress while watching Breaking In, the new thriller starring Gabrielle Union. In it, she plays a mother who stops at nothing to fight off armed criminals (Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Levi Meaden, and Mark Furze) who break into her home and threaten her and her children.

Shaun Russell (Union) drives to the home she grew up in with her kids, Jasmine and Glover (Ajiona Alexus and Seth Carr), in the wake of her estranged father's mysterious hit-and-run murder at the start of the film. Her plan is to sort through the house and prepare it to be sold. But as any thriller fan can tell you, every time the main characters take a long weekend drive to a spacious, quiet, and empty house in the middle of nowhere, something is about to go down.

It starts off normal enough, though. Shaun's teenage kids busy themselves with their iPods and devices (Glover is particularly fascinated with the home's snazzy security system and drone equipment), while Shaun tries to re-acclimate herself with her father by going through his personal belongings and not-so-humble abode. She steps outside to make a call and that's when she realizes — however too late — that her family is not alone in this house. One of the men hits her from behind, so she strikes him back and tries to re-enter the house where her children are, just when that snazzy security system borders up the windows and the doors, locking her out. As it turns out, the men broke in to rob Shaun's father then decide to take her and both her children hostage until they tell them where the safe is with the money.

Okay, pause. Four individual men devised a plan to break into the home of a wealthy dead man, but that plan did not include knowing the location of the safe, the combination of the safe, or checking whether the home would in fact be vacant the night they broke in? Clearly, they're not the brightest bunch of criminals, but they are the most determined because they stick around to terrify this family into getting what they want — even if that means selling each other out to do so.

Mistrust among thieves is just one of several tropes nestled in this merely serviceable thriller in which the criminals can also survive typically fatal stab wounds and being run over by a truck. It becomes increasingly clear that these four men are just not destined to pull off this job because they can't even stand to be in each other's presence. Sam (Meaden) thinks Duncan is unhinged (to be fair, he is totally out of his mind). Duncan (Cabral) thinks Sam is too soft. Meanwhile, Eddie (Burke) seems to be the only clear thinker who's focused on the money — and doesn't even care when his buddy Peter (Furze) goes missing in the woods with nobody but Shaun, who he's clearly underestimated.

I share this dynamic between these hoodlums only because they take up a large part of the film, inexplicably. At one point, it seemed like director James McTeigue and screenwriter Ryan Engle wanted us to feel empathy for Sam because he is in way over his head with a lunatic. That is one of the film's biggest mistakes. We don't care about the criminals. We want to know how this mom is going to retaliate against these obviously seasoned criminals. Her kids are trapped inside with them. She is locked out with one of these psychopaths and all she wants is to get inside and rescue her kids — and all we want is to see her do something really badass for her to accomplish this. I'm not asking for her to be a superhero (because that would be unrealistic and defeat the purpose of the film), but there needs to be a reason to watch this movie. Something dramatic needs to happen other than what is in the basic plot description and already shown in the commercials.

To be fair, she does use the fancy security system against them after they lock her out, which is pretty cool. She even throws a few punches when she needs to. But other than that, there's really nothing that stands out about the movie. It's not like in Kidnap, when there are high speed chases and an uncovered plot in the latter act. In Breaking In, there's nothing that keeps us on our toes. We have the knucklehead criminals and one determined mother who we're rooting for, but we don't really have a reason why except for the fact that we're essentially told to because she's the protagonist.

Part of that is because of the lack of backstory. We don't know why Shaun and her father are estranged. Their relationship is referred to in the drive to the house, but Shaun refuses to go into details about it. And though the film begins at her father's horrific death scene, we don't really know how he was connected to these criminals and why they wanted to rob him. We don't even find out that Shaun is married until the end of the movie, when it is practically irrelevant. Throughout most of Breaking In, McTeague and Engle seem to ride on the hope that we're there to support Union, want to see her kicking butt on screen, and trust this is already going to be a great movie because of those two things. It's not.

On principle alone, it's nice to see heroism portrayed in its most foundational sense — by way of a terrified and increasingly fed up mother just in time for Mother's Day this weekend. But we deserved something more than this.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10