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'The Sitter' Review: Slacker Comedy All Wrong for Engaging Hill

For a guy who’s made mostly conventional movies in his career, Jonah Hill finds himself in a very unusual career position these days.

He’s built his reputation on being an offbeat yet obnoxious slob in such movies as “Superbad” and “Get Him to the Greek,” while occasionally showing a deeper side in the outstanding “Cyrus” (my favorite film of last year) and “Moneyball.”

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But for thus far unspecified reasons, Hill has spent the past year on an impressive effort to lose more than 100 pounds. While this will no doubt prolong his life and has transformed him into a surprisingly dapper fellow, it also means that he will have to completely reinvent his performance style.

That might be a good idea after his new movie “The Sitter,” in which he plays Noah, a college-dropout slacker who stumbles into a babysitting gig on the same night the hottest girl he knows makes him a deal: she’ll finally have sex with him, but only if he brings her some cocaine from her drug dealer (Sam Rockwell).

Well, the man’s got needs, so despite being in charge of three young kids – a 13-year-old dreamboat of a boy (Max Records) who turns out to be gay, an 8-year-old girl (Landry Bender) who aspires to be a Kardashian-style club tramp and reality TV star, and an adopted Latino boy named Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), who steals the movie with his nonstop criminal antics – he takes her up on her offer.

But when Rodrigo not only steals a porcelain egg filled with cocaine from the dealer but also sets off cherry bombs in the bathrooms of two luxury restaurants, events spiral out of control and the gang is on the run for their lives from the dealer’s henchmen.

Basically, this plays as an updated, gender-switched “Adventures in Babysitting” with a far more crass tone. The kids’ parents in the film have no business leaving their kids with a guy like Noah, and frankly, the parents of the young actors playing the roles should have their heads checked, too.

The kids all swear, watch drug deals, survive shootouts and car chases, and have to hear Noah talk about his desperation for sex throughout the film. At least they were spared being part of the opening scene, in which the obese Hill orally drives a girl (Ari Graynor) to ecstasy and wipes his face before he even delivers his first line.

Basic moral standards thankfully prevent the film from sinking even further, and the film only occasionally scores big laughs thanks to Rodrigo’s criminal behavior and Hill’s energetic performance. Yet director David Gordon Green keeps botching the action with the same sloppy staging that ruined his prior foray into R-rated comedy, “Pineapple Express.”

Very little of “The Sitter” rings true, especially when Noah starts doling out advice to the gay boy after making an immense leap of logic to guess he’s gay. By the time the movie crashes to a conclusion at just 81 minutes, Noah’s also convinced the little girl to ditch the voluminous makeup she’s wearing and has dished out moral life advice to the trampy girl he’s finally learned not to be fixated on.

With any luck, “The Sitter” will be quickly forgotten, giving Hill – who is more amiable and intelligent in real life than in most of his roles – a chance to fly higher in the future. But if he keeps making slapdash retreads like this film, his career will be grounded – just like the kids he’s watching in this film should be.

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