The Sitter (2011)

The Sitter is the type of formulaic, unfunny and disappointing comedy that should never be released. It was clearly put on shelves for a while, as it was filmed prior to star Jonah Hill’s noticeable weight loss, and on the shelves is where it likely should have remained. Because Adventures in Babysitting exists, The Sitter should not. It’s as simple as that, really. The older film, starring Elisabeth Shue as the babysitter who has to go on an adventure, is heads and tails better than this one in every way, and until there are no more attainable copies of it, you should be ashamed if you choose to watch The Sitter instead.

The plot: Noah (Hill) is a nice guy who has plans for the night. Those plans are set askew when his mother asks him to babysit the neighbors’ kids for the night. The kids misbehave, Noah decides to take them into town so that he buy cocaine and have sex with his girlfriend (Ari Graynor), and hilarity is supposed to ensue. Apart from the drugs and the copious amount of profanity, it could be the same movie as Adventures in Babysitting.

In fact, if not for the many four-lettered words, and a relatively graphic opening scene, The Sitter could have been rated PG-13, potentially appeal to more people, and maybe have been allowed to be more risky in breaking away from formula. But, swearing kids and swearing in front of kids is “in” right now, and you can’t have a comedy like this one without drugs, so the R-rated affair is what we’re stuck with. That’s fine, I guess, and if it was funny, I wouldn’t care. That is, however, the problem: The Sitter isn’t funny.

At least it does a good job of differentiating the children so that we can always tell them apart. The oldest is Slater (Max Records), who has “issues,” we’re told. Sure, he does. He’s neurotic and suffers from anxiety, although these are things that only pop up when it’s convenient. The next is Blithe (Landry Bender), who believes she’s a Hollywood starlet. Finally, there’s an adopted Puerto Rican named Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), who enjoys lighting things on fire and blowing up toilets.

The star of the film comes in the form of a drug dealer named Karl (Sam Rockwell), who makes sure to tell us that his name is spelled with a “k” and not a “c.” It matters. He gets to be the star simply because Sam Rockwell can outshine most actors in a star-studded film, let alone one with a cast consisting of Jonah Hill and nobody else with an instantly recognizable name. Rockwell is introduced early enough, and every time he appears afterward reminds us that the film should have been about him, not about some young adult and miserable children.

You can only imagine the hijinks that these characters get up to. Drugs come into play more often than not, presumably because Sam Rockwell needed to be in the film a greater amount and that’s the only way the filmmakers could accomplish that. But, each quirk the kids have will do this: Cause trouble at least once, and save Noah from trouble at least once. Yes, even blowing up toiled seats can be a saving grace. And funny, apparently, because — yeah, it’s funny. Sure.

The entire project is formulaic from start to finish. As soon as a scene starts, you know how it’s going to end. The same can be said of the film as a whole, which has barely been stretched out to feature length. It runs just for 81 minutes, and contains maybe 10 minutes of ideas within that running time. It would work better as a skit, or if more creative people were behind it. Hey, Elisabeth Shue can’t be too busy; why not bring her back for a sequel? Even Adventures in Babysitting director Chris Columbus could have been available. Why didn’t that happen?

The Sitter really feels like a director-for-hire project for director David Gordon Green, who has immense talent for drama and has been funny in the past. Pineapple Express is the film most audiences will know him for, and I even liked Your Highness the first time I saw it (a re-watch, however, proved less than desirable returns). Here, however, he brings nothing special to the project, and I hope that he will use the cash to fund another film of the caliber of Snow Angels or All the Real Girls.

If there’s one thing to be celebrated from this unfunny mess, it’s the potential that a couple of the child actors showed. While I didn’t like Max Records’ apathetic approach, both Landry Bender and Kevin Hernandez showed enthusiasm and strong comedic timing — even besting Jonah Hill a good chunk of the time. If nothing else, should they wish to pursue a career in the industry, they both might have what it takes.

The Sitter is an Adventures in Babysitting knockoff that, as long as the original exists, should not be sought out for any reason other than an example of how not to do it. It’s a director-for-hire project, one in which nobody cares about it as long as everyone gets paid. To that end, I hope the contracts included guaranteed payment, just so that whatever money these people make will go into bigger and better things. Skip this movie, and remember that sometimes good and smart people make bad decisions. This is one of them.

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