Move over, Liam Neeson. The righteously aggrieved parental revenge action subgenre has a new star, if the word "new" can apply to someone I've been watching in (mostly) other types of movies for 17 years now. At 45, but looking at least ten years younger, Gabrielle Union has finally gotten the later-in-life action crossover role usually reserved for leathery white dudes who want to score a big paycheck after years of dramas. The marketing is tying Breaking In specifically to Mother's Day: let me unequivocally state that if they decide to make this an annual holiday tradition like Lionsgate did with Saw on Halloween, I'll be there for every one, because what we have here is, minute-for-minute (a taut 88 of them in total), one of the most purely entertaining movies I've seen in a long time.
This year's Armageddon to Traffik's Deep Impact, Breaking In lacks the trashy grindhouse feel of its immediately similar predecessor, instead wallowing in slick, big-studio thrills (that's not an insult in this instance). The near-wordless prologue (save an invisible radio apparently tuned to channel K-Xposition) is a masterclass in ominous buildup to a nasty shock, before we segue into a family car trip that introduces the nice family who will soon be imperiled. Union's Shaun Russell is estranged from her late father, whom you will quickly and correctly presume to be the recipient of fatal harm we just saw prior, and she's on the way to sell his country house, with both kids in tow: teenage Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and preteen Glover (Seth Carr), presumably named because he's a childish bambino with many talents. Drone operation conveniently among them.
Turns out Shaun is estranged from her dad because he was a dreadful criminal, and as such a group of four equally dreadful--if significantly less competent--criminals show up to rob his fortune from a house they had assumed would be empty. No problemo: they're willing to kill the family in the way if need be. Two of them, are, anyway. It becomes a topic of debate, in fact. While not as incompetent as Home Alone's wet bandits, this team--who resemble the 99-Cent Store stunt doubles of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Clifton Collins Jr., Jonny Lee Miller, and Steven Soderbergh--severely underestimate what the daughter of a kingpin can do. What that is, precisely, we're never told, but from the moment one of the baddies throws Union down the side of a hill and she takes the slide and fall perfectly, pivoting to her feet and then taking the final impact on her shoulders and back, it's clear she's been trained in some sort of ass-kickery.
This is one of those movies where the house itself is so awesome you'll spend at least a few minutes indulging in the real-estate porn of it all. You won't ever afford a place like this, but what if you could? You know just how you'd decorate that room, and that corner...the set-up almost suggests a Paranormal Activity sequel, if Gabrielle Union were the ghost messing with unwelcome newcomers. But you don't get to think on this too long before it becomes Die Hard in a two-story house; V for Vendetta director James McTeigue is clearly a lot more effective when freed from having to make any kind of social statement beyond "don't f**k with a mom." My only significant complaint about the script is that Shaun and her family explicitly point out the stables in back of the house early on, and they never come into play. Red herrings can be good too, maybe.
On the whole, though, what you see is what you get: anything you imagine the trailer for this movie promised, it delivers, and it's hard to imagine any ticket buyer realistically being dissatisfied. Whether your mom actually wants to see a movie about another mom stabbing people is a judgment call you'll have to make; in my household, we'd probably have to pop in the Paddington 2 Blu-ray and sneak out while she's d'awwwing over the bear cub in the little hat. If you've already had your fill of the Avengers experiencing dark circumstances, treat yourself to some more straight-up vengeance that'll absolutely smack the sweet spot.