Reverse Taken Thriller is Cliché Fun

DIRECTOR: JAMES MCTEIGUE/2018

BREAKING IN (2018) poster

“You have no clue what I’m capable of.”

Oh, Shaun, but we do.

Shaun (Gabrielle Union) is spending the weekend packing up the house she grew up in after her father’s death. Since her husband (Jason George) is stuck at work, their two children, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr), are stuck helping her out. They do, however, marvel when they find out their grandfather’s house comes with a high-tech security system. When it pushes the home into lockdown, shields cover the windows, cameras and motion sensors activate in every room, and the bulletproof doors won’t open from the outside. They’re not sure what he could have been hiding, but they know it’s valuable when four armed men raid the property to steal it. They kidnap Jasmine and Glover, and Shaun is stuck outside until she can break in to rescue them. From there, Breaking In is a reverse Taken. Instead of Liam Neeson flying out to save his daughter, Gabrielle Union is breaking in to save hers.

She’s an everywoman only backed by some moderate MacGyvering and a mean Mama Bear scowl.

The bad news: That means we’ve already seen this movie, and we’ve seen it done better. Breaking In builds its story on clichés (if I’m feeling charitable, I’d call them “archetypes”), and its characters depend on your knowledge of those tropes. The bad guys threaten her over the intercom like the phone call in Taken! She loses her shoes like in Die Hard! The bad guys underestimate her like in The Equalizer! (Okay, that last one is a whole genre staple.) We have a clue of every story beat this script is capable of because we’ve seen all of them before.

Gabrielle Union in BREAKING IN (2018)

The good news: This thriller picks the right clichés. Most movies trying to capitalize on the success of Taken (The Equalizer, Jack Reacher, even Olympus Has Fallen) have tried to expand the plot into more and more fantastic territory: Saving the President! Killing mobsters! Stopping illegal arms deals! But those heightened stakes miss what made Taken such a hit: Its focus on family. Most of us will never meet the President or (hopefully) ever get tangled up with mobsters, but we all fear for our family’s safety, especially for our children. No matter how cliché the plot points, that premise will always connect with its audience.

And no matter how rancid some of the dialogue or how underutilized Billy Burke is as a villain (RIP Revolution), Breaking In works because it never loses its focus. And when a genre concentrate wraps at 88 minutes, it’s petty to complain it lacks depth. (See The Cloverfield Paradox for another example of this, well, paradox.) What unconventionality it does bring (if I’m feeling generous, I’d call it a “refreshing twist”) is that we’re watching a mother protect her family instead of the usual father figure, and she doesn’t have the typical ex-military/CIA training we’re used to. Instead, she’s an everywoman only backed by some moderate MacGyvering and a mean Mama Bear scowl. And for that, the script at least nails one moment on the head.

Burke’s bad guy taunts, “You’re an impressive woman,” to which Shaun replies, “No, I’m just a mom.”