A few weeks back I wrote about how great it was to see a new Brad Anderson film, even if it had to be Beirut. This week I feel as if I’m eating my words since another big shot I once had on my list of directors to watch was James McTeigue. He made one and a half great movies (I know I’m alone here, but Ninja Assassin had a lot going for it) then drifted off into the ether by making a series of weird choices. The ridiculous Raven and the totally unnecessary Survivor eventually led him back into the Wachowski fold, directing a handful of Sense 8 episodes and doing what I’m told was good work on Marco Polo. So it’s interesting to see him doing what’s essentially gun-for-hire work here — and for Gabrielle Union, of all people.
It’s hard to tell exactly what went wrong, but the bottom line is that Breaking In just seems to give up before its feet ever hit the pavement. For every great tracking shot and beautifully lit interior, there’s one character repeating to another what’s going on in the plot or everyone reminding the audience what each other’s names are. From sloppy writing to amateurish acting choices, the film falters across the board and barely manages to stick its textbook landing before fading out and fading from memory.
Union may be the only part of the movie that actually works, which is fortunate since it’s her production from top to bottom. As the mother in the middle of a robbery-turned-hostage situation, Union seems to at least have a handle on who her character is, going “from scared to desperate” believably, or at least in consistency with the demands of the script. She even gets a chance to show off some scrappier action skills than we’ve seen from her bigger-budget studio roles. It’s the rest of the film around her that feels too tight and suffocating, sadly not in a way that builds toward anything approaching tension.
I imagine McTeigue storming around the set, doing his best Lloyd Kaufman impression to the behind the scenes photographer. “I hate Billy Burke. I hate Richard Cabral. I hate all these people.” The director seems bored and even annoyed at times with the material, showing up to get a cool closeup of a mini-spy drone and probably having a blast with all the smart house tech, but otherwise the movie feels like a paycheck and nothing more.
It’s an almost funereal experience going to the movies recently. Universal Pictures is picking up and putting out these home invasion thrillers and other unimaginative genre retreads, and on one level it makes sense. You have a big enough star, a Mother’s Day release window and a small enough budget and what do you have to lose, right? But just because you can make these kinds of movies in your sleep doesn’t mean you should.