Breaking Down: New thriller bungles the job
By: Matt Brunson
Panic Room meets The Three Stooges in Breaking In (1 1/2 star out of four), 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 way 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.
MELISSA MCCARTHY EXPLODED as a screen comedienne thanks to her projects with filmmaker Paul Feig — among them her Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids, her knockout performance in the wickedly clever Spy, and her robust work in the satisfying Ghostbusters remake. Yet in the two previous pictures, she made with husband Ben Falcone, she was sourced with material far beneath her abilities — a surprise since she herself co-wrote both films with her hubby. So it’s gratifying to report that Life of the Party (**1/2 out of four), her latest collaboration with Falcone, is far superior to their dismal twofer of Tammy and The Boss.
Much of the picture’s appeal rests with the character essayed by McCarthy. Like Rodney Dangerfield’s Thornton Melon in the ‘80s comedy classic Back to School, McCarthy’s Deanna is immensely likable, meaning viewers have her back as she rebounds from a deserting spouse (Matt Walsh) by heading back to college to belatedly earn her degree in archaeology.
Whereas the scripting team of McCarthy-Falcone populated Tammy and The Boss with nothing but dreary characters, they fare better here, creating interesting roles that are filled out by engaging actors (including Molly Gordon as Deanna’s daughter, Luke Benward as Deanna’s smitten boy-toy on campus, and especially Gillian Jacobs as an eccentric student recently awoken from a coma).
To be sure, much of Life of the Party is trite, derivative and/or simply stupid — the “VaGoogle” scene, for instance — and the picture eventually wears out its welcome (particularly when a music superstar shows up, playing herself).
Yet it’s nice to see McCarthy and Falcone giving this that old college try — and almost pulling it off with honors.