BREAKING IN. For longer than I'd really care to countenance (probably the release of Bring It On in 2000) I've found Gabrielle Union to be a consummately compelling actor who should be in major releases with her name above the title. There are vestigial traces of the old weak knees, mild palpitations playground crush in this, to be sure. But what has become most compelling now is the balance of humor, strength and humility with which she seems to approach the work of acting. One could call it charisma or screen presence, but to me there is a deeper, more innate and personal quality to her best performances that closes the distance between her and the audience. There isn't much artifice to her acting and very little preciousness or manufactured gravitas — she doesn't seem to be trying to impress anybody. She shows up for the work and is present and immediate in parts that — lamentably, more often than not — might not rise to that level of input. Union is funny right up to the boundary of goofiness, vulnerable without seeming exposed, always with dignity and composure. I can rarely find a reason to watch anyone else when she's on screen.
So it was exciting to consider the possibility of watching her kick ass and take names as a mom repelling a crew of home invaders. Kick ass and take names, she does. But once again she is far and away the best part of a shallowly imagined, Kansas-flat, would-be thriller that is most surprising in its many failures of technical execution.
The setup is promising: Shaun Russell (Union) returns to the lavish, isolated horse ranch of her youth to settle the estate of her estranged father and prepare the house for sale. She has brought along her teenage daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger son Glover (Seth Carr). What she couldn't possibly know: A robbery crew has chosen the same weekend to break in, in search of a possibly apocryphal sum of cash in a hidden safe. (There's some background noise/exposition about Shaun's dad liquidating his assets on the eve of a fraud trial.)
And then the movie ostensibly starts to pick up steam but really just goes immediately off the rails. The bad guys, all thinly drawn arch characters to start with, are played as if by people who checked out a library book about the stagecraft of villainy. The leader Eddie (Billy Burke) could be menacing, with his submerged cruelty and calculation, but this gives way momentarily to wild-eyed gesticulation and a propensity to violence unsupported by his physical presence. And implausible doesn't even begin to describe the selection process he applied to his accomplices: Duncan (Richard Cabral) is a remorseless killer with no other apparent qualifications for this job; Sam (Levi Meaden), a supposed drug addict with a kind streak, at least had some initial information about the money they're after. The only connection the three share: Eddie found the other two, each "doin' three to five, in county." This is what passes for authentic dialogue. Maybe it works on the page but delivered on screen, I question whether any of these guys have even seen a jail from the outside.
And that lack of verisimilitude becomes a theme. Breaking In is plagued early and often by errors in continuity, questionable motivations, improbable plot devices and, most troubling, a complete lack of danger. Union is great as always but the material she's working with is woefully undeveloped. The movie could have been salvaged on set and in the editing room, but no help there. It's tempting to call it a mess but it's too antiseptic, too orderly in the wrong ways; there can be art and excitement in a mess. PG13. 88m. BROADWAY.
LIFE OF THE PARTY. Melissa McCarthy, when she's really on, owns every frame of every movie in which she appears. Very few actors working today can hold their own against her ferocious comedic dynamism, her unique blend of perfect timing, physicality and self-confidence emerging from a shell of manufactured awkwardness. There will be moments — many of them, if we're lucky — when she will overwhelm our defenses and the laughter will cause convulsions. But, of course, storytelling convention and the limits of humor dictate that we can't just have 90 minutes of McCarthy going bonkers on screen. No, we have to have an inciting incident and three acts building toward a resolution and the characters all have to learn something by the end. There are rules and conventions, and I don't particularly care for them. I just want her to make me laugh.
Life of the Party, in which McCarthy plays a middle-aged mom going back to college with her daughter, provides that. But the really funny moments are semi-buried in a serviceable plot (written by McCarthy and her husband/director Ben Falcone) that feels too conventional for her remarkable brand of comedy. PG13. 105m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
BOOK CLUB. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda and Candice Bergen finally get a movie together but have to star as the last women to hear about Fifty Shades of Grey. PG13. 97m.
CLUELESS (1995). Jane Austen via Beverly Hills high school kids? As if. PG13. 97m. BROADWAY.
DEADPOOL 2. More Rated-R Marvel action with Ryan Reynolds as the sword-wielding wiseass. R. 113m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SHOW DOGS. Ludacris voices a police Rottweiler undercover at a dog show. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Seriousness suffocates the best of this parade of characters in this massive supermovie. PG13. 149m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE DEATH OF STALIN. Steve Buscemi as Khrushchev, plotting and maneuvering for his life in a Soviet regime-change comedy. R. 107m. MINIPLEX.
I FEEL PRETTY. Amy Schumer stars as a woman with accidentally inflated self-esteem in a muddled rom-com that fumbles its message. PG13. 110m. BROADWAY.
OVERBOARD. Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez in a gender-swapped 1980s comedy remake about revenge-conning a wealthy jackass into fake marriage. PG13. 112m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
A QUIET PLACE. This effective horror about a family surviving amid creatures that hunt by sound achieves emotional authenticity about trauma and isolation. BROADWAY.
RBG. Documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court justice in the fly collar. PG. 97m. MINOR.
SUPER TROOPERS 2. Broken Lizard's drinky, druggy, bawdy, prank-based humor returns with its uniformed dorks battling Mounties and busting smugglers. R. 100m. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill