If college cinema professors aren’t teaching “The Screen Gems View of Urban Affluence and its Impact on African American Aspiration,” then somebody is seriously missing the mark.
The studio, which gets by on random horror hits and the occasional franchise (“Resident Evil”) has made glossy African American comedies (“This Christmas”, “The Wedding Ringer”), romances (“Not Easily Broken”) and thrillers (“Obsessed,””No Good Deed”) its low-risk/high-return bread and better.
The films may not have African-American directors or screenwriters, and some suffer a tone-deafness because of that. But they share a sheen, a polish and a beauty that puts Tyler Perry’s similar ambitions to shame.
“When the Bough Breaks” does for surrogate mothers what “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” did for nannies, and does for another character what “Fatal Attraction” did for bunnies.
It’s derivative and obvious, downright risible as it portrays Screen Gems’ go-to affluent hunk, Morris Chestnut, manfully resisting the frank sexual advances of the possibly dangerous and unstable surrogate (Jaz Sinclair) he and his wife (Regina Hall) have hired to carry their “last viable embryo” to term.
But from its New Orleans mansion and penthouse office suites, to its Mercedes and parties packed with haute couture glamour, it presents a vision of African American aspiration and achievement that Hollywood generally ignores.
Something about Anna (Sinclair) and her boyfriend (Theo Rossi) gives John Taylor (Chestnut) pause. He’s a high-end corporate attorney who senses something predatory in the guy, and a little too goody-two-shoes about the young woman.
“I’ve never been able to give anybody anything!” she gushes. And chef Laura (Hall) just melts for her, heedless of the dangers in putting their last egg into somebody whose beau does too much speaking for her and seems too eager to pass himself off as her pimp in this arrangement.
John keeps his misgivings to himself to please his desperate-for-a-baby wife. And sure enough, the boyfriend beats up poor Anna, they invite Anna to stay with them and Temptation is Right Under Their Roof.
Mousy but lovely Anna va-va-vooms up with barely an effort. Even Laura notices.
“She might have a little thing for you!”
She doesn’t know the half of it.
Things follow a generally predictable path from there, with the question “What sort of game are they/Is she running here?” hanging over it all.
It’s heavily patriarchal, as the husband is the only one to see the danger and tries to “handle” the situation on his own. Sinclair makes a sexy femme fatale, but there’s nothing subtle about the character, the performance or the I’m-having-your-baby-big-boy stares.
“Can’t blame a person for staring. It just means they like what they see!”
But “When the Bough Breaks” gets the job done, even if we see this cradle rocking right out of the tree pretty much from the get go.
Deeper significance? That’s for some future college course to dissect.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for violence, sexuality/partial nudity, thematic elements, some disturbing images, and language
Cast: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall
Credits: Directed by Jon Cassar, script by Jack OIsen. A Screen Gems release.
Running time: 1:47