There's a murky triangle between homage, send-up and mimicry, one in which "The Sitter," effectively a retooling of "Adventures in Babysitting," occasionally gets lost. Nonetheless, the film hits its mark more often than not, making for an amusing, if uneven, distraction.
Jonah Hill stars as Noah, a do-nothing 20-something recently kicked out of college, who's sponging off his mom until a better offer comes along. When a neighbor's babysitter cancels at the last minute, Noah is drafted into service to watch over three kids: a budding celebutante, an over-medicated bundle of adolescent nerves, and an adopted Latino with an unhealthy love of cherry bombs.
When Noah's kinda-girlfriend, Marisa (Ari Graynor), calls from a party promising to finally sleep with him if he'll bring her some coke, he must pay a visit to her old dealer, Carl (Sam Rockwell), a hug-happy wide-eyed sociopath with an itchy trigger finger. When Rodrigo's sticky fingers find their way into Carl's merchandise, the chase is on.
Hill is his amazing everyman self once again as Noah. He's the smart and soulful, but shiftless loser who can make you feel OK about doing nothing. Noah is at easy with everyone, white or black, young or old, straight or high, straight or gay… And his Noah offers brilliant insight into what ails each of the kids, meting out wisdom like a clown throwing candy from a parade float.
Among the kids, it's Landry Bender as Blithe who stands out. All she wants to do is declare things "hot," gossip and shop for clothes—she wants to be Paris Hilton when she grows up—and she seems to be slathered in progressively more make-up with each passing scene. If you've got a young daughter at home, she'll have you laughing on the outside while you weep on the inside.
Watching director David Gordon Green wending his way through the streets of New York, with his quick cuts, bright lights and beat-heavy soundtrack (an amazing collection of Sugar Hill Gang, Slick Rick, The Jungle Brothers, Biz Markie, Ohmega Watts and more), you can’t help but think that maybe he wants to direct rap videos when he grows up. He possesses a singular sense of humor that he has difficulty teasing out to feature-length. Watching his work on "Eastbound & Down" you get cohesive, but in films like "Pineapple Express" and this one, he seems to have troubled keeping it together. Some people write novels, some write short stories—few are great at both.
There are weak moments, like Noah's madcap escape from a children's clothing store, all flailing bodies and tumbling display racks. Watching it play out, it's hard to tell if Gordon is winking, laughing or snarling at a brand of humor that is long dead. Still, there are some amazing set-pieces in "The Sitter," specifically Carl's drug den, a mincing queen on roller skates watching the door, and the place littered with muscle-men in short shorts and gas masks, portioning out cocaine, a brilliant flip on the now-tired trope of women in bikini bottoms and surgical masks.
"The Sitter" has some great moments, a couple of fine performances and an amazing soundtrack, but when it's all said and done, it will probably be most remembered for being Jonah Hill's last "fat movie"—unless he goes all Oprah on us.
"The Sitter" opens nationwide Friday, December 9th