In “The Sitter,” it’s hard to decide who is more to blame — the kids, the adults or the filmmakers.
I’m going with the filmmakers as the folks most responsible for perpetrating this terribly unfunny and overwhelmingly raunchy film that stars the normally likable, or at least comically forgivable, Jonah Hill. He is neither here.
I don’t think it’s a case of everyone simply going for the big bucks either. It’s actually hard to figure out who “The Sitter” would appeal to, though I’m sure director David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) and writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, in their first produced screenplay, are betting that Hill’s hard-core fans will line up for anything that has his name on it.
The story itself is a very hard-R variation on “Uncle Buck,” if… if the uncle was no relation, if he was a sex-obsessed, frequently stoned college dropout, if the kids were irritating, insane, occasionally violent and spouting most of the profanity.
The film opens on a low. A shot of a writhing young blond in the midst of an exhaustive moaning orgasm and then the camera pulls back to reveal Noah (Hill) lifting his head to switch from an oral to a verbal tease. No innuendo, no humor, no satisfaction.
After his recent string of classy turns, “Moneyball” opposite Brad Pitt in particular, it’s sad to see Hill back to being the head of the crass, but that is exactly where “The Sitter” lands him. Noah is yet another man-child role, in this case he’s got daddy issues, money woes and his sweet single mom will miss a rare date if he doesn’t fill in for her friend’s baby-sitter. If the rent weren’t free, he would just say no.
To set the ground rules for his charges, Noah starts with death threats, though from the looks of it, this is a household that doesn’t know the meaning of ground rules. Nine-year-old Blithe (Landry Bender) is perfecting a hooker style, complete with heavy makeup and a potty mouth. Slater (Max Records) is a 13-year-old with high anxiety and pills to help him cope. Ten-year-old Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), recently adopted from Mexico, has serious rage and runaway issues.
More conflict is needed and it comes from the blond (Ari Graynor), who is finally promising full-on sex if he’ll only pick up a little cocaine from her crazy drug dealer Karl (Sam Rockwell). Right now. Of course Noah immediately packs up the kids and heads out into this very long, dark, about-to-turn disastrous night. There will be blood — and drugs and drinking and sex and violence and, you know it’s coming, enlightenment for all.
The filmmakers try desperately to skate that thin line between socially redeeming and wanton excess by having Noah dish out some bits of wisdom and occasionally indicate he might care about the kids. But it is very thin ice and Hill never finds his balance, to say nothing of his comic timing.
Though table-turning “The Ransom of Red Chief” themes abound, somehow the exploding toilet and all the other “funny” mayhem, on which much of the film’s humor rides, seem sad instead.