Review: Breaking In is the Die Hard TV movie no one asked for

What would it be like if the Lifetime network made Die Hard? Now we know thanks to Breaking In, the tedious, domestic, somehow less plausible version of the 1988 action classic, here turning a mother of two into our barefoot hero trying to rescue some hostages from a would-be safe-robber and his cronies.

Gabrielle Union stars as Shaun Russell, whose estranged, criminal, slow-motion-jogging father is murdered in a hit-and-run sequence that looks equal parts watch ad and pharmaceutical commercial. She subsequently inherits her childhood home, taking her kids there to stay while she sets up its sale. Like Jurassic Park, the visit is treated like an awe-inspiring sight, with the camera sweeping across the remote estate’s vistas, and the teenage daughter and obnoxious young son in awe of the fancy gadgets and computer systems Grandpa has installed there. And like Jurassic World, the Mercedes SUV product shots are wildly gratuitous.

The trio soon learn they aren’t alone, though. Already hidden in places that, despite an extensive camera and motion detection system, are never really explained, are a quartet of burglars: Eddie (Billy Burke), the brains; Duncan (Richard Cabral), the knife-crazy wild card; Sam (Levi Meaden), the sensitive one; and Isaac (Damien Leake), the military brawn who was maybe also a hacker or something and it doesn’t really matter. They’ve heard that Pops Russell has a cash-filled safe hidden within his old home, and they’re determined to find it. Unfortunately for those boys, they instead find a family, taking the children hostage and finding themselves facing the wrath of their determined mother.

Breaking In needlessly gives itself an internal timer of 90 minutes for the criminals to complete their task. After that, it’s said, the disabled security system will automatically call the cops. It should act as a ticking clock for the four—and for the audience anxious to finish with what’s actually drawn out to, astoundingly, not even 90 minutes—yet you’d never know it from watching. They’re infuriatingly lackadaisical in looking for the safe, instead fixating on a woman who can’t get inside and, as is vocally broadcast more than once, would never go get help for fear of leaving her brood.

A more competent cabal of thieves—say, led by Hans Gruber instead of the dad from Twilight—would focus on trying to get the money and, failing that, take off. Likewise, anyone who finally got the money would immediately GTFO. Naturally, these guys do neither, and no matter how many times they lampshade the fact that there is absolutely no reason to kill this family, that threat is the only thing idly pushing this thing forward.

Directed by James McTeigue, who made his debut with V for Vendetta, the film is the workmanlike nadir of whatever style he picked up from his frequent collaborations with the Wachowskis. Breaking In‘s mansion has all the sense of space of the Overlook Hotel, and the footsteps on its floors are liberally muted for the sake of whatever convenient sneak-aways and sneak-ups he needs. McTeigue has made a TV movie of the highest order, in this case for some reason elevated all the way to theaters. Breaking In has a hero that’s often admirably restrained in being clever but not too superhumanly so—matching what made the original Die Hard‘s John McClane such an icon—but its first-draft of a plot, lazy execution, and half-assed idea of bad-ass-mom feminism (Burke almost certainly has more screentime and lines than Union) kills this thing. But as this movie would tell it, apparently you have to kill when you’re making a pointless, misguided cash-grab.

Grade: C-

Breaking In
Director: James McTeigue
Studio: Universal Pictures
Runtime: 88 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Cast: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Ajiona Alexus, Seth Carr, Richard Cabral, Levi Meaden, Damien Leake

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