Sometimes you watch a movie trailer and feel as if you have seen the entire film — and that certainly is the case with When the Bough Breaks. The preview for this big-budget wanna-be thriller from the executive producer of the TV series 24 neatly sets up, and very nearly resolves, any anticipated drama from the plot. Having seen the trailer, the only suspense for me in When the Bough Breaks was how many opportunities it would miss and when the credits would finally roll.
A happily married couple (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) select a seemingly innocent young woman (Jaz Sinclair) to carry their baby after in vitro fertilization, and things become tense when the surrogate mother becomes obsessed with the husband. Director Jon Cassar made this movie from his own screenplay, but anyone else could probably have come up with better and more interesting twists and turns than what actually ends up on the screen. Chestnut continues to phone-in performances that have dwindled in intensity since the strong start to his career in much better films — Boyz in the Hood and The Inkwell — and his distanced style here is most evident whenever he is on-screen with Hall or newcomer Jaz Sinclair. Hall has moments of believability as an upwardly mobile working woman bearing the personal pain of several miscarriages, yet hopeful for the chance to still start a family, but she is not able to carry the film by herself.
The chief reason for this lies in the misfire of Sinclair as the femme fatale. Neither her initially naïve performance nor her counter as the deceptive seductress go to any extremes, with Sinclair instead playing her character pretty close to the middle most of the time. Based on the previews, I had expected much more duplicity, deceptiveness or even sexiness from her. But, as is often the case with stories told in trailers, the actual film left me feeling as if I were the one who was duped. There are some interesting subplots involving the surrogate’s serviceman boyfriend, workplace issues for Chestnut’s character and a shady private investigator hired to look into the surrogate’s past, but those are likewise ultimately unsatisfying.
Romany Malco has his comic talents wasted in all of the three dramatic scenes he is shoehorned into, and Michael K. Williams is likewise underutilized after his arrival in the third act. Cassar tries to employ the tactic of making the setting of New Orleans vital to the story, but this tepid tale — aside from disconnected second-unit shots of Beale Street and aerials of both the bayou and the skyline — could have been filmed anywhere. The Big Easy simply makes it harder for the audience not to fall asleep here.
If When the Bough Breaks sounds like a made-for-TV version of Fatal Attraction with the surrogacy plotline added to make it seem relevant or different, that’s because that is all there is to it. This version owes a lot to that 1987 thriller (right down to the endangerment of a family pet for shock value) and definitely pales in comparison.
While this pretty much looks like a big-screen version of a Lifetime TV movie, my mother likes to watch those, and I cannot say she would enjoy any aspect offered by When the Bough Breaks. Had she watched the previews, I think she probably have would passed. And you should too. Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality/partial nudity, some disturbing images and language.
Now playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville and Regal Biltmore Grande