Breaking In didn’t have enough money to set even a small fire in the house where all the action happens, and it doesn’t matter. It’s a movie which realises that it’s not the size of the problem which matters, but the impact.
They don’t make movies like this much any more. Back in the 1980s, small scale thrillers with lunkheads menacing ordinary joes for small scores were a dime a dozen, but these days thrillers cost more than space flight, and small scale movies are all about social issues. It’s not great art, but there’s always a simple pleasure in seeing something done well and without much fuss.
Like most of those thrillers, there’s three layers; what are the nice heroes going to do to get out of this mess, why are the bad guys doing what they’re doing, and does any of that make a lick of sense? The answer to the third question is traditionally “Don’t be stupid.” and dumb thrillers work when you don’t have to time to wonder. So Gabrielle Union and her two cute kids go to check out her hated father’s big house before putting it on the market, and wind up running into four goons who’e come to steal $4 million out of a safe in the house. How do they know it’s there? The youngest and most useless gang member overheard a secretary talking about it. Does it make any sense that Gabrielle Union’s hated dad would have a huge house and $4 million in cash hidden in it? Not much. He’s supposed to be some kind of bad guy, but not enough of a bad guy to have had police all over his house after he died after getting his head kicked in.
You don’t get a lot of time to think about this, because the whole movie is about Gabrielle Union getting locked out of the house with her kids stuck inside as hostages, and then going all Rambo on the gang to get her kids back. And at one level it’s utterly preposterous, but on another it’s low key enough that we’re never being asked to believe the impossible. She’s smart and reasonably fit, and very determined, and it’s not hard to buy any of the things she does to get her own way.
It’s not high art; it’s not even this, for example. But it’s solid stuff, especially Billy Burke’s putupon gang leader, whose henchman recruitment process may have been too rushed. He’s got one psycho, one punk and one kind-of-tech-expert who gets knocked out of the running before he can make much of an impression. At first Billy just comes across as tired middle management trying to get the job done with as little fuss as his bad help will let him away with, and then you realise that he’s worse than any of the other gang members without even the excuse of being crazy. Still great fun to watch as he gets more and more fed up with the way a perfectly straightforward murder-robbery turns into a hostage drama.
And, of course since it’s bad guys locked in a house, there’s a rolling game of Chekhov’s household utensils as random stuff pops onto the screen so that Gabrielle can use it twenty minutes later to turn the tables on the bad guys. Depending on your position on Chekhov’s gun, you may find it frustrating or realistic that half the prompts turn out to be feints ...