Jonah Hill is a slackery man-boy who nevertheless has a kind heart in The Sitter, a very middling, very R-rated comedy.
Just to be clear, this isn’t some L.L. Cool J situation where a formerly R-rated actor is going PG. Though there are kids on the screen, the sex, language, violence and cocaine should keep them out of the theaters.
Noah (Hill) has dropped out of college, is living with his mom and is spending time, let’s say, with Marisa (Ari Gaynor). Noah’s relationship with Marisa is a rather limited, one-way-street kind of relationship but he’s hoping that if he waits it out perhaps there will be some legitimate boyfriend-girlfriend rated-R whoopee. Waiting for such a circumstance seems to be his chief occupation along with watching TV, despite his mom Sandy’s (Jessica Hecht) hopes that he’ll get a job. When a sitter backs out on neighbors at the last moment, Sandy urges Noah to step in. Noah has no interest in babysitting but then he realizes that if the neighbors can’t get a sitter they can’t go out and if they can’t go out they can’t take his mother with them to meet the handsome doctor whom they think is perfect for her. Guilt and nice-guy-ness overtake Noah and he gives in.
When he gets to the neighbors’ house, he meets his three terrors, er, charges for the evening: Blithe (Landry Bender), a makeup-wearing wannabe-Kardashian elementary-schooler; Slater (Max Records), an anxiety-filled 13-year-old, and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), the newly adopted Latin-American wannabe gangster (middle-school age, I’m guessing). Noah takes an instant dislike to these children but plans to stick it out for his mom’s sake, but then Marisa calls. If he can only go buy her some drugs and then stop by the party she’s at, it might be the night for them to finally have sex.
Against all common sense, Noah’s reaction is: OK.
So he piles the kids in the minivan and heads for the city. Naturally, things do not go smoothly. He loses track of the kids, gets the minivan stolen, inadvertently steals from a very unstable drug dealer (Sam Rockwell), is nearly arrested in the little girls’ underwear section of a discount store, gets punched hard in the face and on-purpose burglarizes a jewelry store.
That last sentence felt so contrived you can almost see the pitch — “and then! the drug dealer! chases the minivan! Ha! It’s The Hangover with kids!” You have seen this kind of shtick before and it was more lame than funny then too.
I will say this wacky movie-via-Mad-Libs (“fill in zany situation,” “fill in name of illicit substance”) is probably better for being rated R and not PG or PG-13. Sure, you’re being stabbed by a hot poker, but at least it isn’t a dull hot poker. Occasionally, some of the oh-so-purposefully X-treme situations are even, well, not funny but not aggressively not-funny either. They are tepidly not funny. If they were in a better movie, you might even laugh at them.
What keeps The Sitter from being a total unwatchable poopfest is the way in which the movie decides to show us Noah’s sensitive side — his relationship with his mom, the way he does actually try to help the kids deal with some of the more difficult facets of their own lives, a budding friendship he develops with a nerdy beauty named Roxanne (Kylie Bunbury) — a girl who had been at college with him and is clearly so much saner than Marisa. Sure, this feelings stuff is a lump of clay added on to this lopsided sculpture, but it’s a piece you don’t mind contemplating a bit.
Which makes you think that there was a smarter movie with better comedy in there somewhere but nobody took the time to dig it out. C-
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and some violence. Directed by David Gordon Green and written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, The Sitter is an hour and 21 minutes and distributed by 20th Century Fox.