My notes on thriller Breaking InThe mystery element of this basic home invasion Mom-fights-back drama is how it ended up getting a theatrical release when so many similar efforts (Safe House, Shut In, etc) slip out to DVD/streaming/cable. A decent enough in-flight-type movie, with few surprises, it at least gives Gabrielle Union a decent acting (and cardiovascular) workout as Action Mom protecting her kids from Very Bad Men – though there’s a sense that she’s been helpfully surrounded with modest talents, to highlight her star quality (previously, I’ve thought of her as someone with a knack for getting cast in TV series that don’t get a second season).
Shaun Russell (Union), a middle-class African-American woman, drives slightly sulky teenage daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and tech-savvy younger son Glover (Seth Carr) out to the palatial estate owned by her just-killed father, a bigtime crook (offences left vague) she is estranged from, in order to start the process of selling it off. The kids, who don’t quite know the kind of guy their grandfather was, are surprised by the high-tech security features, but they’ve already been circumvented by a gang who are searching the place for a safe in which Grandad kept a huge cash stash. The high concept is that Mom gets shut out – initially with no shoes, like Bruce Willis in Die Hard – while the kids are trapped inside, and all those shutters and spy-cams and movement sensors are suddenly used against her.
It’s far from the loopiest Die Hard riff in thirty years of imitating this plot, though there are more than a few ‘oh come on now’ moments – including that tired old favourite, the victim who gets hold of the gun and fires off a shot that misses the bad guy then drops the weapon so it can be used against him. The quartet of ill-matched goons are a step above the Home Alone crew but scarcely in the Gruber Brothers league – Eddie (Billy Burke) is the soft-spoken, sort-of-thoughtful planner who keeps trying to talk with Shaun; Duncan (Richard Cabral) is the tattooed hispanic psychopath with a big serrated knife who plainly is too flakey to be trusted; Sam (Levi Meaden) is the bleached blond wimp Eddie met ‘on his knees in the shower’ at a correctional facility who has cased the joint but is barely up to hubcap theft let alone a major heist; and Peter (Mark Furze) is the ex-military type who knows how to open the safe.
Obviously, at this level of filmmaking, the kids are off-limits for all but the lightest bondage and menace … so a few other folks have to show up to walk into knives or get shot to emphasise how far the baddies will go. A couple of set-up elements – like the kids’ tech skills – surprisingly don’t pan out (suggesting screenwriter Ryan Engle put less thought into this than his Liam Neeson credits Non-Stop and The Commuter) and a late appearance from devoted born-to-be-a-hostage wimp husband (Jason George) is hilarious in context. Director James McTeigue is best remembered for a film reputedly finished without him (V for Vendetta) and has not been very prolific (he did do The Raven and Ninja Assassin); here, he comes across as someone trying to do a 15 certificate Steven C. Miller impersonation. Get Out showed there was an audience for middle-class blaxploitation, but this goes out of its way not to raise race as an issue – it even balances decent black Mom with horrid hispanic perv – and sells its African-American heroine not as Pam Grier sticking it to the man but an embodiment of bedrock family values and self-reliance.