‘When the Bough Breaks’: Film Review

When the Bough Breaks - Still - H - 2016
Sony Pictures
Getting down and dirty for the sake of the (unborn) children.

Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall play a New Orleans couple whose attempts to start a family put them in the path of an unhinged surrogate.

A wealthy couple’s “last viable embryo” is the thingamajig that drives the predictable thriller mechanics of When the Bough Breaks, a lazily written and generically directed Fatal Attraction knockoff. Though there’s not a single three-dimensional character to be found in the tepid attempt at lurid, Screen Gems’ late-summer offering to the potboiler gods is nonetheless handsomely cast and gets the job done — the job being a nasty showdown between deserving marrieds and the crazy single female who threatens their lifestyle. Consider the movie’s unintentional critique of the privileged class a surprise bonus.

Morris Chestnut (who also executive produces) and Regina Hall fit the bill as John and Laura Taylor, the kind of glamorously professional couple that Hollywood loves. He’s an attorney eyeing a partnership at his firm, and she’s a hotshot chef. Between the two houses they inherited, they live in New Orleans splendor. All that’s missing is a child, and after Laura's three miscarriages, an earnest young candidate from a surrogacy agency looks like just the ticket to make their lives complete.

Anna (Jaz Sinclair) first appears in pastel pink with the crinkly smile of a good Samaritan. Her twitchy fiancé (Theo Rossi) is a red flag to John or anyone else paying attention, but Laura is so eager to start a family, and so convinced that Anna’s the answer to her prayers, that soon the two women are bonding over the embryo implantation procedure and going to yoga classes together. Once the Taylors have made her comfy in their guesthouse, Anna makes the moves on John. Practiced in the art of self-help affirmations, she’s not taking no for an answer.

Working from a screenplay by Jack Olsen that’s constructed from recycled ideas, cheap shots and zero compassion, director John Cassar spotlights his able cast’s good looks, along with some striking Louisiana locations. He telegraphs Anna’s muddled malevolence — most egregiously in the ample attention he pays Laura’s elderly cat, who’s rather charmingly named Miss Havisham and clearly won’t go gentle into that good night.

The human characters are barely more fleshed out than the sacrificial feline. In a throwaway part as John’s rival at the law firm, Romany Malco gets to wear well-tailored suits. Michael K. Williams, playing a friend of John’s who does investigative work, makes a few hilariously sudden appearances just when he’s needed. But mainly he provides the “aha!” backstory on the increasingly problematic Anna. In other circumstances the details of her troubled past would inspire someone to seek help for her, but here they're merely a splat of info overload designed to further the preposterous plot.

Wittingly or not, what’s truly disturbing about Bough is the way it questions the validity of legal protections for a lowly surrogate. After all, a fancy couple’s offspring is at stake. At one point, Anna’s certified villain of a scheming boyfriend tells her, “I’m the brains on this. You’re just the uterus.” The really ugly thing about this movie full of beautiful people is that ultimately it agrees with him about Anna’s worth.

Distributor: Sony/Screen Gems
Production company: Screen Gems presents a Unique Features production
Cast: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Romany Malco, Jaz Sinclair, Michael K. Williams, Theo Rossi, Glenn Morshower
Director: John Cassar
Screenwriter: Jack Olsen
Producers: Bob Shaye, Michael Lynne
Executive producers: Morris Chestnut, Dylan Sellers, Glenn S. Gainor
Director of photography: David Moxness
Production designer: Chris Cornwell
Costume designer: Olivia Miles
Editor: Scott Powell
Composer: John Frizzell
Casting: Twinkie Bird

Rated PG-13, 107 minutes