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If you’re wondering what to do for a post Mother’s Day meal, Universal Pictures offers up its latest: Breaking In.

Synopsis: Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union) and her son Glover (Seth Carr) and daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) travel to her childhood home to prepare the expansive property for sale. Her estranged father’s (Damien Leake) passing brings her back to the property but things aren’t as idyllic as they seem.  Her father’s installed a comprehensive security system and it looks like someone’s bypassed it and is in the house. Before she knows it, her children are hostages, the house is in lock-down mode, and there’s no one coming to save them. Shaun has no choice but to break in and do it herself.

Quick Take: Breaking In is two parts Panic Room with hints of unique drama wrapped in a surprisingly well-paced, violent (they deserve that PG-13) locked-room thrill ride with not nearly enough story to match the action. There’s clichéd dialogue, underutilized actors, and unpulled threads that keep this from being a real nail-biter from beginning to end. But it was certainly fun watching her put them through their paces and thwart them at every turn.

Take your mom, grab some popcorn, and Monday morning quarterback this over M&Ms.

High and Low Notes:

Despite working from a script that took no chances, Breaking In has some suspenseful moments that will grab you. With a strong lead character, following the narrative is never an issue. Shaun doesn’t care why these people are in her house. She just wants them to let her kids out.

Union is absolutely a badass as Shaun. The action sequences are uneven and just awkward enough to be convincing. There’s a serious question why this woman manages to boss up on these dudes so effectively and for the first time in a long time, I wanted a childhood flashback to fill in the damn blanks. The kids play their roles with enough flair and emotion to make this feel like a real family unit so that’s never a drag on the storyline. In fact, I would’ve like to see both kids play a bigger part of the action. Their character setup made that a viable story angle and I think it could’ve been played to the film’s advantage.

No one goes from “I’m gonna order some pizza” to “watch me get my kids back even if I have to kill all you mo*fos” with the toss of a chair at a picture window. I know people think moms become superhuman when their kids are in danger but a little grounding would’ve gone a long way to upping this film’s game.

The bad guys are pretty standard fare. The asshole boss, the psycho, and the idiot. They weren’t even cast against type to keep things interesting. You won’t find yourself rooting for the bad guys in this one. Ever.

There’s a more interesting story than the one you get on screen. Who is Shaun’s father, why is their relationship strained, and what drove her away from this house? Breaking In works so hard to stick to it’s “Payback is a Mother” theme that it fails to capitalize on the opportunity to really give the audience anything truly risky or unique.

The cinematography, setup, and plot groundwork are perfect. So perfect in fact, I kept waiting for that story to be told. The opening sequence lays the breadcrumbs of a great story. There are hints and side comments plenty but the second act through the finale fails to live up to its promise.

The score does a great job of keeping you dialed into the suspense and compensates nicely for what you don’t get from the story. If they’d just moved past the whole she’s “just” a mom and given a bigger piece of her world to work with Breaking In could’ve been better.

By the end, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me that Shaun and her kids more an earned keeping that house and all it’s contents.

It’s a fun ride but there’s not much here you haven’t seen before because Breaking In never falls off message.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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