Movie Review - When the Bough Breaks (2016)

Jaz Sinclair (left) and Morris Chestnut
in 'When the Bough Breaks'
Jon Cassar is an Emmy-winning producer and director who is best known for his work on FOX's 24 and Reelz's The Kennedys. He's done more action TV and prestige drama. He's been in the business for over 30 years. He started out as a camera operator and worked his way up mainly through the television industry. He's done a couple of theatrical features prior but nothing that would make one think he'd be perfect for this. Yes, he's competent but not necessarily appropriate.

At its base level, it's not that complicated. This movie is basically Fatal Attraction (1987) meets The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) but with a predominantly African-American cast. The problem is that in order to sell an erotic thriller, one needs an actress who is not only beautiful but one with a bit of gravitas to anchor the whole thing. This movie gives us Jaz Sinclair who is perhaps too young to give us that gravitas.

Fatal Attraction had Glenn Close who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in that movie. Close was in her late 30's at the time. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle had Rebecca De Mornay who was in her early 30's when she did that film. Jaz Sinclair is only 22. She's very young. It might be appropriate for her character, but, as an actress she might not have what it takes right now. At least, I wasn't convinced. She's gorgeous for sure but that's not enough.

Screen Gems is the company that is producing this movie. It's a label under Sony Pictures and the past decade it's had relative success with films of the same genre. Thrillers, erotic or otherwise, and films geared toward black people. Screen Gems scored with Obsessed (2009) and No Good Deed (2014). Both those movies starred Idris Elba who has spent the better part of this decade being a sex symbol, as well as being in prestige films. Those previous Screen Gems features also had Beyoncé, the biggest pop star in the world and Taraji P. Henson, an Oscar-nominated actress. The two lead actors here are very good and very attractive, but they don't have the same status or arguably talent as someone like Henson or Elba.

Morris Chestnut (Boyz N the Hood and The Best Man) stars as John Taylor, a corporate attorney who works at a law firm in New Orleans. Regina Hall (Scary Movie and The Best Man) co-stars as Laura Taylor, a high-powered chef and John's wife. They live in a huge home with a guest house and pool. Clearly, both are very wealthy. However, for the past two years, they've been trying to have a baby.

Written by Jack Olsen, the main thrust begins with John and Laura finding a surrogate. The problem isn't that John and Laura are sterile. It's just that for some reason Laura can't carry a baby in utero, so they need a surrogate to carry for them. Jaz Sinclair plays Anna Walsh, the surrogate they found through an agency, an agency that apparently doesn't do a proper background check. John and Laura intend to pay Anna. Yet, Olsen's script leaves some questions regarding this. For starters, adoption is never addressed. They also never bring up the idea of surrogacy through a relative. In fact, Olsen's script barely addresses any family and friends John and Laura would have outside whom they know at work.

In terms of plotting, there's one aspect that felt extraneous. Anna has a fiancé named Mike Mitchell, played by Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy). Given where this movie is going, his presence was just an utter waste of time. His behavior was just way over the top. I get that Anna would likely have a boyfriend like him, but, narrative-wise, his character ultimately distracts and delays from what the real conflict is.

Olsen does have a clever idea in his script. It's an extortion plot that has rarely been done in a major movie. Where the movie goes wrong is making Anna a psychotic, love-sick puppy. Anna could have just been a sinister woman who essentially treats her pregnancy as a hostage situation where John and Laura have to pay ransom and Anna is just in it for the money. Instead, Anna is a crazy murderer who's in love with John. John doesn't love her, so the outcome is obvious.

This would have been fine because it builds to a pulpy image that I'm not sure has ever been committed to film before. A woman who is eight-months pregnant tries to kill someone. That same pregnant woman engages in a fight, a really serious fight. This is a great pulpy image when the serial killer is a pregnant woman in her late trimester. Unfortunately, Cassar doesn't commit to this image or idea. It's shown but then the whole thing is over in like five seconds. If you're going to make a pulpy genre film, go at it with all gusto. This movie wimps out at the end.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality partial nudity and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.


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