The insipid home-invasion thriller Breaking In begins mockingly, with a scene of a trim, seventyish man jogging through the city (in slow-mo, like something one might see in a pharmaceutical commercial) before meeting his untimely end via vehicular homicide. Weeks later, the estranged family of the deceased—forty-something daughter Shaun (Gabrielle Union) and her two kids, Jas (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr)—drives up from Chicago to meet with a realtor about selling his secluded property in Wisconsin, which turns out to be a serious piece of designer real estate. It seems the old man was shady and rich (though Breaking In isn’t too good on details), and made his little getaway into a high-tech fortress with motion sensors and bulletproof windows. And though his relations are at first oblivious, the way the camera keeps snooping around makes it obvious that someone else in the house. A crew of burglars—the psycho (Richard Cabral), the nice one (Levi Meaden), the main one (Billy Burke), and, uh, the other guy (Mark Furze)—has broken into the place in search of the ill-gotten millions they believe to be stashed there. Call it a case of bad timing.
For the sake of brevity, some additional plot holes have been left out. But suffice it to say that Breaking In is narratively Swiss cheese and that, in theory, this really shouldn’t matter. The script is by Ryan Engle, a co-writer of Jaume Collet-Serra’s (literal) Liam Neeson vehicles Non-Stop and The Commuter, fun and twisty thrillers that aren’t exactly master classes in story logic. Its limited setting and timeframe (there’s a countdown before the security system resets) has all the makings of a decent genre piece. (Specifically, it has all the makings of a decent Collet-Serra movie, given the genre whiz’s fondness for Panic-Room-style camera moves.) But director James McTeigue (V For Vendetta, The Raven) peels the tension off every reveal and dark corner like a picky toddler yucking at his food. The fact that Shaun ends up locked outside the house early on, with her kids held hostage by the burglars (who all look like they’re dressed for a bar, not a break-in at a rural property), makes for a semi-novel twist. But without suspense, all the audience has to go on are the plot mechanics, which are no great shakes, and the characters, which are paper-thin. At least Breaking In deserves a few points for coming up with a new, groan-inducing reason for leaving a character without a cell phone: it turns out one of the burglars is convinced the government is spying on him.
The importance of style, space, and timing in thrillers can never be overstated. But all that McTeigue’s unimaginative competence draws out of this pulpy material are some spotless luxury interiors, cleanly lit by Toby Oliver, the cinematographer of Get Out. (Bizarrely, Breaking In features a bit of business involving a window that’s lifted from that horror hit.) The film’s sense of time lacks precision and urgency, and just having characters periodically point out that the clock is ticking doesn’t cut it. When a movie revolves around a parent trying to rescue her kids from a fractious bunch of criminals, the viewer should be given more to worry about than the question of why someone would wear a blazer to a burglary.