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Breaking In (Unrated Director's Cut)

Universal // Unrated // August 7, 2018
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted September 17, 2018 | E-mail the Author
As anyone even keeping a cursory tab on Hollywood discrimination issues will know, it's dire out there for women over 40, and even moreso if those women aren't white. Many major female stars -- Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Amy Adams, Rosario Dawson, Kathy Bates, Viola Davis, etc. -- have turned away from the multiplex to television in search of meatier roles. Gabrielle Union may not necessarily be as much of a household name, but deserves a spot in the same conversation, after leaping to 2000s-era fame in Bring It On and Bad Boys II, only to continue playing supporting roles rather than getting a well-deserved star vehicle. Breaking In (which Union also produced) fulfills at least part of that promise, giving the 45-year-old actress above-the-title billing as a mom trying to protect her family from home invaders. Too bad it isn't a very good movie.

Union plays Shaun Russell, who brings her children Jas (Ajiona Elexus) and Glover (Seth Carr) out to her late father's second home in the country for some last-minute preparations before they sell the property. Shaun's relationship with her father, a vaguely-defined career criminal, is strained, and her feelings upon returning to her childhood home are decidedly non-nostalgic. Her unsettled feeling increases when Glover discovers a bizarrely elaborate security system that includes motion detectors, cameras in every room, and indestructible windows. Unfortunately for Shaun, she finds herself on the wrong side of all those security measures when four men sneak onto the property looking for her father's hidden millions and take her children hostage.

Comparisons are the cheapest form of criticism, but it's nearly impossible to watch Breaking In without thinking of David Fincher's infinitely superior Panic Room (the "30 Rock" joke "A Blaffair to Rememblack" makes it hard to resist calling the movie Blanic Room). Although some of the qualities have been switched up, the intruders are almost indistinguishable, personality-wise: there's the level-headed leader Eddie (Billy Burke), nervous and potentially empathetic screw-up Sam (Levi Meaden), and psychotic wild-card Duncan (Richard Cabral), with a personality-free fourth guy, Peter (Mark Furze) offered up as a victim and a pawn. Then there's the use of technology, spread out beyond a panic room to encompass an entire house, and the core "protective-parent" storyline that gives most thrillers their dramatic juice.

The problem with all of these similarities, however, is not their sameness -- utilitarian can work -- but how thoroughly the movie fails to measure up to the movies it's (intentionally or unintentionally) ripping off. Director James McTeigue, a Wachowski apprentice, spends an extended amount of time following the characters through the property, yet completely fails to establish any sense of geography (to the point where I couldn't even make sense of the single bedroom that Jas and Glover are held in). The film's whole concept is built around the house's security system, which also introduces a ticking clock, but the movie completely bungles it because the technology makes no sense. A sequence with motion detectors is a blatant plot hole given Eddie is moving, and the introduction of wall-to-wall cameras and a handheld security control device are both almost completely irrelevant.

The real failure, however, is the screenplay by Ryan Engle, which feels like a connect-the-dots thriller movie that hasn't even been filled in yet. Burke, on autopilot, is saddled with a combination of stock dialogue and exposition that even an invested performer would struggle to save, and the Duncan character is a cliche who is more obnoxious than threatening. A more entertaining, pulpier B-thriller would use plot twists and turns to inject the movie with thrills, but Duncan's unwillingness to play by the rules (which itself constitutes a rule if you've ever seen one of these kinds of movies) is the best Engle can muster. Worst of all, "half-hearted" would be an improvement when it comes to Shaun's character and backstory, which are present enough to know they sort of matter and so non-existent that they add nothing. Union has nothing to work with, struggling to orient herself between plot mechanics and canned dialogue that suggests badassery but never shows it. There's precisely one good shot in the movie, spoiled by the trailers: Union, just out of Duncan's view, hanging onto the side of a stairwell by her fingertips. The ideal version of Breaking In would be just like that: 90 minutes of Union getting to sink her teeth into a movie/character that was thrillingly desperate, electrifyingly silly, and altogether delightful.

Note: For the purposes of this review, I watched the Unrated Director's Cut, which runs a mere 1 minute longer. Most of the movie is minimally bloody, with the only two moments I flagged as being extensions being an additional f-bomb (there are only two in the movie), and one particularly goopy shot of a knife that's just been used on someone.

The Blu-ray
Universal went with a strong hook for their theatrical marketing campaign: a black-and-white image of Union in her dirty T-shirt and jeans, holding a lighter, with a pretty great tagline: "Payback is a Mother." The Blu-ray doesn't mess with that formula, on either the sleeve or the glossy embossed slipcover. The Blu-ray and DVD copy are housed in a two-disc Viva Elite case, and there is an insert with a MoviesAnywhere Digital Copy code on one side, and an additional code for a free movie on Universal's rewards site on the reverse.

The Video and Audio
This brand-new 2018 production, shot digitally, gets a perfectly run-of-the-mill (which in this case means excellent) Blu-ray presentation. The 2.39:1 1080p AVC widescreen transfer is sharp, boasts accurate colors, and strong shadow detail (which comes in handy constantly during the dark nighttime scenes). Occasionally, there is a hint of ghosting during motion, but only as a feature of the original photography. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track offers the requisite action mixing and surround effects, although as with many low-budget production, the basic simplicity of the mix feels (in this reviewer's opinion) like a bigger giveaway that the film was made for less than the cinematography. French and Spanish DTS 5.1 tracks are also on offer, as are English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French and Spanish subtitles. A Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Video track is also included for the theatrical cut only.

The Extras
As mentioned in the body of the review, the disc's first extra is two versions of the feature presentation. Beyond that, the disc hits all the bases in terms of content, although most of the extras are pretty unremarkable.

First up, we have some deleted and alternate footage. An alternate opening (2:08) is singled out, even though it really isn't any more or less effective than the opening the movie has now. Next, there's a requisite reel of deleted/extended scenes (14:28), none of which would've added much to the film. All of these are available on their own, or with commentary by McTeigue and Engle.

Four cursory featurettes follow. "One Bad Mother..." (4:19) is arguably the overview, focusing on Union's character and story. "A Filmmaker's Eye: James McTeigue (5:06) spotlights the director and his work bringing the story to life. "A Lesson in Kicking Ass" (4:19) delves into the film's all-too-infrequent fight sequences and the work that went into designing and staging them. Finally, "A Hero Evolved" (2:54) returns to Union for more examination of the movie's themes of female empowerment. All are pretty standard studio-polished stuff, with a slick mix of interview footage, behind-the-scenes B-roll, and film clips.

Finally, there's an audio commentary by McTeigue and Engle, who discuss the making of the film. This is a pretty dry and idly complimentary track, even with the caveat that I did not particularly enjoy the movie -- it's a shame that Union couldn't have joined them for this discussion.

Breaking In should be good. It might even deserve to be good, as a vehicle for Union. Yet, despite churning these sorts of movies out for decades, Hollywood seems to keep dropping the ball when it comes to delivering a stock action thriller for a female lead (based on this and miserable reviews for Taraji P. Henson's Proud Mary and Jennifer Garner's Peppermint). It's a shame, but this is one you should skip.

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