Combustible Celluloid
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With: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Jaz Sinclair, Theo Rossi, Romany Malco, Michael Kenneth Williams, Glenn Morshower, GiGi Erneta, Tom Nowicki
Written by: Jack Olsen
Directed by: Jon Cassar
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sexuality/partial nudity, thematic elements, some disturbing images, and language
Running Time: 107
Date: 09/09/2016

When the Bough Breaks (2016)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Baby Baddie

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Thrillers in which seemingly innocuous outsiders infiltrate and threaten safe, secure, middle-class homes were popular in the '90s; this new one feels like a pale copy, a case of too little, too late.

In When the Bough Breaks, an upper-middle class couple, lawyer John Taylor (Morris Chestnut) and chef Laura Taylor (Regina Hall), want to have a baby but can't, and are now considering a surrogate. They find Anna (Jaz Sinclair), a young and pretty woman who appears to be perfect for the job; everyone agrees, and the pregnancy is a success.

Unfortunately, Anna's boyfriend Mike (Theo Rossi) beats her up, and the Taylors agree to take her in. Meanwhile, Anna falls in love with the gentle, loving John and begins to act inappropriately toward him. At the same time, Mike continues to plot, trying to figure out ways to blackmail the Taylors, but very soon, he will be the least of their troubles.

The good news is that stars Chestnut and Hall, who have appeared together in The Best Man, Think Like a Man, and The Best Man Holiday, are a likable couple worth rooting for. And Sinclair has an appealingly mesmerizing presence — with careful, wistful line readings — that sells her ultimate turn to evil.

But Rossi is an overcooked bad guy boyfriend, and he signals the dumb, violent third act, in which nothing makes any sense. Attacks come from out of nowhere, and characters appear to be able to suddenly transport across rooms without making any noise. By the time this climax occurs, it begins to feel like the entire movie was just heading nowhere all along, as if the marketing were more important than the storytelling. At least character actor Michael Kenneth Williams shows up to ease the pain.

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