By Bill Wine
It’s difficult to sit through this mess of a movie without thinking of the similarly themed Adventures in Babysitting.
Unfortunately, that does no favors for The Sitter, which presents itself as an edgier, R-rated version of the 1987 comedy about an evening of babysitting that goes out of control, but instead makes the modest but fondly recalled romp from director Chris Columbus seem masterful by comparison.
Discredit for this one goes to director David Gordon Green.
Jonah Hill stars as Noah, a suspended college student who lives with his mom and says yes to a babysitting gig caring for the three children next door so she can go out on a double date.
He is to be in charge of three siblings — precocious eight-year-old Blithe (Landry Bender) and her two older brothers, anxious Slater (Max Records) and explosives-obsessed Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) — each of whom would appear to be difficult to control for one reason or another.
Things remain relatively calm until Noah gets a phone call from his demanding girlfriend (Ary Graynor), who beckons him to a party by mentioning the possibility of sexual favors.
So the irresponsible Noah piles the kids in their father’s car — which he was told not to touch — and starts zipping across Manhattan.
On the way, and at the request of said girlfriend, Noah drops in on a couple of drug dealers, played by Sam Rockwell and JB Smoove, to purchase what we’ll call “recreational” drugs. But one of the kids steals the dealers’ valuable stash of cocaine on their way out.
Hill — who made a vivid impression in such comedies as Superbad and Knocked Up, impressed audiences earlier this year by displaying a flair for drama as well in Moneyball opposite Brad Pitt, and lost a considerable amount of weight and changed his body type since shooting The Sitter — actually does wonders as the focal character here, given the weakness of the material he’s saddled with.
But as resourceful a screen actor and sly a presence as he is, he’s still got to take a hit for this outing because he also served as one of the film’s executive producers.
Coming off the shaky and indulgent Pineapple Express and Your Highness, David Gordon Green (Undertow, George Washington, All the Real Girls) brings a sloppy and indulgent directing style to his third straight stoner comedy, working from a screenplay by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka that has plot holes galore and little if any internal logic or verisimilitude.
The director and his screenwriters seem to share the misconception that raunch is automatically risible. It’s not.
Green allows his cast a good deal of improvisatory leeway. When that’s done right, it can lend an air of spontaneity to a movie. In this case, with material this spotty, with a script this pointless, with random subplots going nowhere, it doesn’t much matter whether improvised lines are better than scripted ones. One way or another, the deck chairs on the Titanic are being rearranged.
There are a few grace notes, but they’re few and far between. There are also a couple of decent laughs, but they occur early on.
True, with a running time of just 81 minutes, The Sitter certainly won’t be accused of overstaying its welcome. But its merciful brevity doesn’t change the fact that things have fallen apart to such a degree in the third act that by the time Noah is delivering insincere moral-of-the-story life lessons to the youngsters, not only have the humor and charm disappeared but we actually find ourselves feeling sorry for those folks trapped on the screen.
So we’ll declare a bedtime of 1½ stars out of 4. Like its protagonist, and to understate the case, The Sitter doesn’t sit well.