I’ve been waiting 15 years to watch Gabrielle Union kick somebody’s ass. Her Bad Boys 2 character, Syd, was the last time I saw her come close to the action star I so desperately wanted her to be. She’s had a great time flexing her comedic and dramatic chops in Think Like A Man, Top Five and Almost Christmas to name a few. She'll be giving us the small screen version of Syd soon (and we'll always have this play fight with Busta Rhymes), but I always felt like that trademark scowl from Deliver Us From Eva and Bring It On could pack a punch. And finally it does.
In Breaking In, Gabrielle Union is a beautiful but pensive mom of two named Shaun Russell, who is traveling with her kids to finalize the sale of her family home after her father’s death. We don’t know much about her past, but we know that her relationship with her father was strained. Upon arrival at the palatial estate it’s clear that dad had something he was trying to protect very badly, because the house is fortified with enough armor and surveillance technology to survive The Purge. Being observant, Shaun notices little things out of place in the home, which signals that danger is afoot. And a mother’s intuition is never wrong.
At its best, Breaking In is a celebration of the superhero we all believe our mothers to be. From the jump we know that Shaun is a fighter with a “particular set of skills” that would make Liam Neesam think twice about messing with her. The home invaders are aggressive but not unified, and Shaun uses what she knows along with toughness, knowledge of her surroundings and some luck to keep her intruders off balance.
Shaun’s biggest advantage is that her past is in her adversary's (and the audience's) blind spot. She famously repeats “You don’t know shit about me,” and I believe it’s to make her a more universal character. We are made to feel that it’s Shaun’s motherhood and her desire to protect her family that imbues her with extra sensory abilities. While this is a pretty noble take, it makes Shaun feel a bit like a blank slate. We get hints of John McClain in Diehard when she skulks around broken glass in bare feet, but we get none of the humor that made action characters like Willis’s McClain memorable. We know Gabrielle Union has great comedic timing and a sharp wit (have you seen her Tweets?) and the writers could have given her just a touch of light material to break up the panicked breathing and tough talk. True, no mother is thinking of being funny when she’s trying to save her kids, but this is a movie. If Jamie Foxx can crack jokes while the White House is literally falling down around him why can’t she?
While we get some great performances from Union and her co-stars ( Ajiona Alexus is perfectly cast as her daughter Jasmine and Seth Carr- aka Baby Killmonger- hits on all the annoying little brother notes) the film never solves for X. There isn’t even a hint of her back story or occupation beyond her relationship with her dad and her family. And we know that is done to maintain her mystique, but it also runs the risk of just reducing her to Super Mom without an identity of her own. What’s her favorite food? Does she like Brazilian music? We have plenty of empathy for her plight but just a touch of what makes her tick would’ve given this film more replay value.
Nevertheless, Breaking In gives us enough cathartic throat punching, crotch-kicking moments and smart problem solving to keep us vested in the story. Every time you feel like things are going to be OK, their night descends further into a bad Waffle House visit and like all of us of the melanin-ated nation, Shaun is under siege in her own space and just wants to be left alone. Her fight to just exist in peace is one we all can relate to, I just wish this ass-kicking shero got a real origin story.
Image Source: Universal Studios