Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Sam Rockwell, Method Man
David Gordon Green
Alessandro Tanaka, Brian Gatewood
20th Century Fox
tbd on DVD; Blu-Ray includes an unrated cut plus extended and deleted scenes plus three featurettes
Do you remember the film Adventures in Babysitting?
The Sitter is badder, raunchier, more foul-mouthed and, I almost forgot, it has Jonah Hill.
Jonah Hill is NOT Elisabeth Shue, the star of the aforementioned Adventures in Babysitting. Shue is, even 25 years later, able to pass herself off as a rather adorable human being - the kind you might actually want taking care of your children.
Directed by David Gordon Green, who started off his cinematic career critically praised with films like George Washington and All The Real Girls before finding box-office success with Pineapple Express, doesn't so much sink further into the cinematic abyss (After all, how can you go lower and the godawful Your Highness?) as he simply further cements the notion that perhaps he's sold out his artistic integrity in favor of the almighty dollar.
How else can one explain a Green making the journey from culturally sensitive, regionally insightful fare such as George Washington to a film where Jonah Hill is doing what Jonah Hill does in virtually any film centered upon Jonah Hill. Hill has proven in the past year that he can act, with films such as Moneyball and Cyrus giving the young actor an opportunity to truly flex his acting chops. Cyrus was a darkly humorous chance for Hill to tiptoe out of the stoner comedy sub-genre and see how audiences would react. While the film didn't go gangbusters at the box-office, it did make money and garner Hill quite a bit of critical praise. The praise continued in the Brad Pitt-led Moneyball, a film that will likely get at least a few Academy Award nominations this year.
So, why return to the whole "I'm fat and I'm funny" routine?
Oh yeah, box-office.
In the film, Hill is Noah. Noah is a suspended, unemployed college student with an impossibly hot "maybe" girlfriend (Ari Graynor) who mostly seems to admire him for his ability in, um, servicing her orally. When his mother forces him to take a babysitting job involving Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), Blithe (Landry Bender) and Slater (Max Records, from the vastly superior Where the Wild Things Are), we're set off an an R-rated adventure that ups the antics, excitement and faux danger from Adventures in Babysitting, though much of the danger comes courtesy of a frequently funny drug dealer (Sam Rockwell) who goes from funny to insipid well within the film's slight 81-minute running time.
In fairness to Green, The Sitter isn't a completely awful film and Hill, despite a complete lack of chemistry with the kids, is a logical choice to play a guy who's seemingly normal enough you MIGHT hire him to watch your kids but edgy enough that it'll leave you uneasy the entire time you're gone. There are gags that work here, and The Sitter is one of the few films where you can pretty much say that if you don't care for the opening five minutes you'll likely hate the film. If, on the other hand, you love the opening five minutes then this is the film for you.
Much of The Sitter feels like David Gordon Green doing his best imitation of Judd Apatow, though Green never quite masters Apatow's mostly dependable weaving together of raunch with real humanity. Green tries, and occasionally it does work, especially in scenes involving Rockwell and in scenes between Hill and Max Records, unquestionably the best actual actor among the three children.
There are times, though, that The Sitter is just plain lazy. It's as if, perhaps, Green and Hill were sitting around getting stoned thinking "Oh wait, this will be funny." Of course, this is incredibly unlikely but it still paints an image more humorous than a good majority of the film.
The simple truth is that Jonah Hill fans will likely find enough decent humor and occasional "awww" moments to make The Sitter a solid matinee choice for a mindless, chilly winter afternoon. If you've started to grow tired of all the awards bait being released in theaters, then The Sitter is a much better choice than this weekend's other release, the inexcusably bad New Year's Eve.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic