James McTeigue’s Breaking In is the sort of incompetently constructed thriller that gives B movies a bad name. The film pits the tenacious Shaun (Gabrielle Union) against burglars attempting to steal a safe full of cash from her recently deceased father’s (Damien Leake) sprawling Malibu ranch house, which is equipped with cameras, automatic locks, a drone, and a high-tech control room. When Shaun is locked out of this so-called fortress, she’s forced to pierce its defenses in order to save her kids (Ajiona Alexus and Seth Carr).
Ryan Engle’s screenplay sets up clear stakes, but McTeigue’s clunky, confusing direction consistently fails to capitalize on them. Despite its single-location setting, Breaking In has no sense of spatial coherence, as Shaun’s manse is a jumble of indistinguishable rooms all decorated in the same bland, nondescript style. We rarely feel any suspense because we simply have no concept of where the characters are in relation to one another.
When the film’s villains broke into the house, they tripped its security system, which automatically dispatched a police car. Lucky for them the property is so isolated that it takes the cops two hours to reach it, leaving the criminals a limited window to find the safe, crack it open, take the money, and make their getaway. But this ostensible ticking-clock scenario is also handled with such half-assed neglect that it’s easy to forget that it’s even a factor until one character or another makes helpfully offhanded comment about it.
Such ineptitude might have been forgivable if Breaking In had a sense of fun. Everything here is cloaked in an air of self-seriousness that only serves to highlight the film’s lack of inspiration. The burglars are personality-free voids whose leader (Billy Burke) does little more than sneer, spout banal game theory, and marvel at what an “impressive woman” Shaun is. And his underlings include a capricious gangster (Richard Cabral) who undermines the group’s plans for a bloodless heist and an in-over-his-head type (Levi Meaden) who “didn’t think it would go down like this.”
But it’s not as if Shaun is any more vibrantly characterized. Her backstory isn’t only ill-defined—something about a painful past with her father, who was a criminal—but never really figures into Breaking In’s plot or her actions. It’s bad enough that the filmmakers can’t even manage to give us a deeper sense of Union’s mama bear. Worse is that, as with so much in the film that’s confusing, vapid, and inept, they barely even seem to try.