Cracking Wise

Jonah Hill's endearing shtick gets old rather quickly in 'The Sitter'

Director David Gordon Green, who gave us the wonderful Pineapple Express, had an unholy misfire this year with the middling medieval farce Your Highness. I count Your Highness as one of the year's biggest disappointments—if not the biggest.

Now comes The Sitter, Green's third comedy in a row after starting his career with evocative, effective dramas like All the Real Girls and George Washington. While it represents an improvement and a few more laughs per hour than Your Highness, it's still not worth your time.

Jonah Hill, riding high following his excellent performance in Moneyball, goes back to Superbad mode for this one as Noah, a slacker adult stuck baby-sitting some scary kids for the evening. The film has deservedly drawn comparison to Adventures in Babysitting, the '80s cult classic starring a superhot Elisabeth Shue and Penelope Ann Miller. I'm wondering if royalties were paid behind the scenes on this one, because the two films are very similar. (I just checked the Internet Movie Database, and no Adventures in Babysitting writers get a story credit for The Sitter. 20th Century Fox should start gathering lawyers, just in case Adventures director Chris Columbus and writer David Simkins get pissed off.)

The kids left in Noah's care have varying degrees of weirdness. Best of the bunch is little Blithe (Landry Bender), who loves to glop makeup on her face and shoot perfume into Noah's mouth. There's also Slater (Max Records of Where the Wild Things Are), an anxiety-ridden cute kid who keeps ranting about his "issues." Finally, there's foster-child Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), who enjoys blowing up toilets and pissing on dance floors.

They all pour into a minivan for an adventure-filled night involving clubs, parties and drug-dealers. And, yes, one of the kids farts. It's an R-rated comedy and has kids, so that means somebody is going to fart, right? Not only does the kid fart; the kid sharts, which leads to unfunny pedophile jokes while Noah loiters in a kids' underwear section.

The Sitter is about as formulaic as a film can get. Stick the crass Jonah Hill with a bunch of crazy juveniles; put the whole lot in some crazy situations; and see what sort of crazy things Hill will say! Hill does have talent, and a lot of his zingers generate at least little giggles, but the shtick grows a little tired after the first half-hour.

The drug-dealer subplot is the film's best asset, because it involves the one and only Sam Rockwell as Karl, a strange man running one of cinema's all-time-strangest, and gayest, drug dens. He keeps his cocaine in baby dinosaur eggs guarded by well-oiled bodybuilders. To top things off, the place is guarded by a jovial, effeminate man on skates.

Rockwell has that gift that makes every character he brings to the screen wholly original, and Karl is no exception. In one instant, he's hugging Noah, calling him one of his very best friends; in the next, he's shooting at him. Karl is quite menacing and horrible, yet surprisingly good-natured, all things considered. Patented Rockwell nuttiness.

Were Rockwell in this movie more, I would have probably recommended it. As it stands, The Sitter feels incomplete, with Hill struggling to keep it afloat with his endearing, yet tiresome routine.

Luckily for Hill's sake, he showed some dramatic chops in Moneyball, so his future doesn't necessarily rest in R-rated comedies in which he's constantly cracking wise and dealing with sharting youngsters. There aren't many comedians who have been able to keep going solely on their ability to generate laughs. Just ask Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Robin Williams, etc. Hill has a shot at crossing over with the right succession of projects, with Moneyball being a good start.

Of all the performances in the film besides Rockwell's, Records' is the best. His Slater is an endearing character. It's good to see Records' career go beyond Where the Wild Things Are. The Sitter isn't the best movie for him, but it does show that he has comic chops.

Green showed he was capable of delivering good, classic comedy with Pineapple Express, and has had some success with the TV show Eastbound and Down on HBO. Since then, he has shown he is capable of delivering subpar comedies, including this one. Hopefully, future projects will see him again exploring dramas, a place where he seems a little more at home.

The Sitter isn't terrible, but it certainly doesn't deserve a slot in December, when we are supposed to be getting Oscar favorites. In closing, I ask this of the movie gods: For the time being, let there be no more comedies from David Gordon Green. Please.

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