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In ‘Breaking In,’ Gabrielle Union is one fierce mama

Resourceful Shaun (Gabrielle Union, right) finds a way to rescue her daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) from burglars who have taken over their house in “Breaking In.”
Resourceful Shaun (Gabrielle Union, right) finds a way to rescue her daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) from burglars who have taken over their house in “Breaking In.” Universal Studios

The thriller “Breaking In,” the tale of a young mother battling a quartet of burglars to save her children, is fairly brilliant Mother’s Day programming (or counterprogramming), which is why it’s a shame the movie itself isn’t more fun.

Thrillers should be taut and ruthlessly efficient in storytelling. “Breaking In” doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it. We’re given only a few minutes of setup before we’re thrown right into it.

Shaun (a stern Gabrielle Union) and her kids, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr), arrive at the remote country compound of her recently deceased father. She has long been estranged from him, and Shaun plans to spend the weekend getting ready to sell the house.

They are there for only a few minutes before burglars, on the hunt for $4 million in cash they heard her dad kept in a safe, have taken her kids hostage and locked Shaun out. In a riff on the home invasion angle, Shaun is the one trying to break into her house to save her children.

Everything in “Breaking In” announces itself as significant — Shaun taking off her shoes, her bottle of wine, the alarm system on the fritz, the control panel for the smart home. The whole thing is a bit too tight — there’s no room to play, or moments of reprieve to lure you into a false sense of security before a jump scare.

Shaun is a supermom who’s always one barefoot step ahead of the opportunistic crew, led by Eddie (Billy Burke), who spends more time psychoanalyzing her than actually getting anything done. As a result, we never believe Shaun is truly in danger.

If anything, you wish for a few moments of camp or silliness to modulate the dynamics of the lean thriller. Union gets to deliver a few great burns (as she did so well in “Bring It On”), but with such grimness that none of them lands with the kind of aplomb to elicit cheers.

Union is incredibly appealing, but her performance is one-note, because that’s all she’s given to do. When it comes to the henchmen, Richard Cabral, who plays a knife-wielding psychopath ex-con, is a breakout. He’s covered in tattoos and has the perfect snarl and crazy eyes to go with it. He’s scary, and he offers something different.

The disappointment of “Breaking In” is the wasted potential. There are a few plot setups that could have been fleshed out or brought back around (why was her father being investigated by the DA?), and Union isn’t given enough opportunity to display her charms. This thriller could have really used some room to breathe.

‘Breaking In’

Rated PG-13 for violence, menace, bloody images, sexual references, and brief strong language.

Time: 1:28.