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(2016) (Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Thriller: A couple hires a woman to be the surrogate mother for their child, but must contend with her becoming obsessed with the man of the house.
John (MORRIS CHESTNUT) and Laura Taylor (REGINA HALL) are a successful and well-to-do couple living in New Orleans. He's a lawyer about to make partner, while she's a chef about to be promoted to CEO. But the one thing they're missing in their life is having a family, and after three miscarriages, they're now looking into using a surrogate to carry their last frozen embryo to term. They believe they've found the right woman in 21-year-old waitress Anna Walsh (JAZ SINCLAIR), a sweet and shy girl whose boyfriend, Mike Mitchell (THEO ROSSI), is about to be deployed once again overseas.

Everything seems perfect, although John is a bit uneasy about Mike, and that's later proven true when the soldier beats up Anna. Knowing Mike will be shipped out in ten days, John gives him the ultimatum of leaving Anna alone for good or face the legal consequences of his actions. To ensure her safety, he and Laura invite the young woman to live in their guest house while carrying their child. All seems well until Anna starts to develop a crush on John, something he initially dismisses but becomes increasingly concerned about.

So much so that he contacts his private eye friend, Roland White (MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS), to look into her and Mike's past, something that reveals troubling details. Not wanting to upset Laura, John doesn't tell her about what he's learned or of Anna's actions. But as things progressively get worse, it's uncertain how things will play out or what will happen to their unborn child.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Our reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics is that we'll only provide a paragraph or two about the film's artistic merits or, more accurately, lack thereof. After all, life is too short to spend any more effort than that on a movie that even the releasing studio knows isn't any good (which is why they hid it from reviewers before its release).

In some movies, the villains are, well, villainous right from the get-go. There's no doubt about the evil intentions of Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter or others of their ilk. Thus the writers, directors, performers and everyone else associated with the portrayal of such characters don't need to hide anything for any sort of big reveal.

Then there are films where such characters initially appear normal, and then end up going bat caca crazy and try to kill or otherwise harm those who've befriended them. Such films were quite popular in the 1980s and '90s, with entries such as "Pacific Heights, "Unlawful Entry," "Single White Female," "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and, of course, "Fatal Attraction," proving the old adage of not being able to read a book by its cover, or even the first few chapters.

That sort of plot-line pops up now and then at the cineplexes, and the latest such installment is "When the Bough Breaks." In it, Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall play a couple who seem to have it all, but can't manage to conceive and start a family. Cue the surrogate mother (Jaz Sinclair) who, natch, appears like the perfect young woman for the job despite having a controlling and abusing boyfriend (played by Theo Rossi who's so over the top he should have been given a long mustache for twirling).

For anyone who's seen this sort of flick, however, we know it won't be long before a couple of screws come loose in her mental state and all H-E-Double Hockey sticks will inevitably break loose with increasing amounts of peril, a violent encounter, and the recently grievously wounded and seemingly dead villain popping back up for one more violent go at it.

Okay, at least that last bit doesn't exactly play out that way. Even so, this film from screenwriter Jack Olsen and director Jon Cassar becomes progressively hokier, dumber and ever more of a chore to sit through as it plays out -- in an increasingly preposterous and extremely predictable fashion (including the introduction of the private eye who discovers troubling aspects about the character that explains, sort of, her psychotic break) -- over its runtime of 107-some minutes. "When the Bough Breaks" is so bad that not only does the cradle fall, but so does everything else about the film. Give this one a pass. It rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed September 9, 2011 / Posted September 9, 2011

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