Gabrielle Union in Breaking In (Photo: Universal)

★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY James McTeigue
STARS Gabrielle Union, Billie Burke

Panic Room meets The Three Stooges in Breaking In, a dim-witted thriller that mainly functions as a reminder that the talented Gabrielle Union should be landing better roles in bigger movies.

Union (who also co-produced) stars as Shaun Russell, a mom who travels with her two children (Ajiona Alexus and Seth Carr) to her late father’s desolate mansion to settle his affairs. Her dad was a bad guy, and, unknown to his daughter, he left a sizable sum of cash in the hidden safe at his maximum-security home. But the crooks who murdered the old man know it’s there, and they break into the house eager to commence their search. What they didn’t know is that Shaun and her kids would also be there – given the situation, they hold the children hostage while Shaun, stuck outside the house, must figure out a way to get inside and rescue them.

It’s a wonder that something as generic as Breaking In would actually secure a theatrical release, since it’s the sort of movie that only plays well on HBO at 2 a.m., after roughly 10 wings and 20 beers have been consumed. The script by Ryan Engle (the recent Rampage) is exceedingly sloppy on all fronts, with logic apparently having already taken off for summer vacation. These hoodlums instantly kill Shaun’s dad in the film’s first scene – wouldn’t torturing him for the safe’s location have saved them a lot of time and bother? Various articles have already described Shaun as a “single mom” – understandable, since it’s never made clear until waaay late in the game whether she’s married, separated, divorced or (as the pulpit preachers proclaim) living in sin.

The imbecilic villains, meanwhile, are strictly cut from crinkled cardboard – there’s the leader (Billie Burke) who admires Shaun’s resilience, there’s the psycho (Richard Cabral) who repeatedly threatens to gut anyone who gets in his way, and there’s the simpering kid (Levi Meaden) who doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. I suppose the fourth member of the outfit is slightly original: a nerdy dude (Mark Furze) who would seem more at home warbling Dave Matthews covers at some third-rate bar than chasing Gabrielle Union through the woods.

Spatial relations are important in movies like this, but director James McTeigue fails to establish the palatial layout in any significant way, meaning it’s often impossible to determine the distance between the various characters as they prowl through the estate. As such, the suspense can’t even reach the level of a low simmer. Indeed, most aspects of Breaking In prove to be uninspired, relying instead on lazy conventions. Ultimately, the film isn’t must-see as much as it’s simply musty.

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