Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When the Bough Breaks

2.5/4

Starring: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Jaz Sinclair, Michael Kenneth Williams, Theo Rossi

Rated PG-13 for Violence, Sexuality/Partial Nudity, Thematic Elements, Some Disturbing Images, and Language

For a long time now, there have been calls for diversity in Hollywood in all areas; acting, directing, producing, and so on.  Finally, the studios have started to listen (or if they aren't, then independent studios have begun to fill the void).  Personally, I'm all for it.  New cultures bring new backgrounds and new perspectives on storytelling, and done right, can make for some interesting movies.  Take "The Cell" or "The Fall," for instance, two creative and ambitious movies from Indian director Tarsem.  Or "Menace II Society" from The Hughes Brothers.  Those movies had a point of view and a storytelling style that made them unique and engaging.

Of course, going away from the mold is always risky, which makes studios nervous.  That leads to movies like "When the Bough Breaks," which are diverse behind the scenes, but what shows up on camera couldn't be more generic.  And despite a daring premise, "generic" and "safe" are two words that sum up this movie completely.

John (Chestnut) and Laura (Hall) Taylor couldn't ask for a better life.  They're extremely wealthy, successful in their chosen fields (he's a lawyer while she is a chef, and they're both at the top of their field) and deeply in love.  The only thing missing for them is a child.  Despite trying so hard, they are not a family.  In desperation, they have turned to surrogacy.  They select Anna Walsh (Sinclair).  She's pretty, humble and eager to help (three red flags right there).  After her brutish boyfriend Mike (Rossi) beats her up, the Taylors invite her to move into the guest house.  But John soon begins to suspect that Anna may not be as truthful as she seems.  And that's before she tries to seduce him.

In essence, this is a "stranger within" thriller, which is okay.  I like these thrillers, formulaic as they may be.  There's an inherent tension to this formula that, done well, is impossible not to get caught up in.  Sadly, the best I can say about "When the Bough Breaks," which has a very odd title, is that it's competent and coherent.  There is some definite tension to be found here and it contains a few twists that I wasn't expecting.  But the script is so bland and the direction so pedestrian than it can't rise above the level of mediocrity.

More than anything, this is a missed opportunity.  I mean, think about it.  How scary would it be to tied to a lunatic with the ultimate trump card?  The Taylors, especially John, would love to put themselves as far away from Anna as possible.  But she's carrying their child, and worse, the law says that she can change her mind and keep the kid at any time.  So not only do they have to put up with her, they have to keep her happy.

But the movie fails to really capitalize on this.  Director Jon Cassar is content to remain on the surface level.  Had it dealt with the situation with intelligence and honesty, it could have been truly terrifying.  I wish it was made by the people who made "Kalifornia."  Now that would have been something.

As it stands, the movie isn't awful.  The acting is adequate and the film contains some tense scenes.  But it's hopelessly generic.  And everyone suffers from brain cramps in the final third, so that's a problem too.

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