Jonah Hill’s The Sitter makes no attempt to disguise what it wants to be: An R-rated Adventures in Babysitting mostly for people who are old enough to remember Adventures in Babysitting. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and in fact, it’s admirable that they chose not to slap the same title on the movie and call it a remake. This way, everyone gets what what they want, except the studio: Jonah Hill and David Gordon Green get to remake Adventures, the audience doesn’t have its memory of the original tarnished, and the studios lose money on the proposition . It’s win, win, win.
But what newbie screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka failed to take into account when they ripped off the Adventures plot was that the comedy was mixed in equal doses with heart. Here, the screenwriters present unlikable characters and wait too long to try to redeem them. The Sitter blasts out an hour of attempts at raunchy, outrageous comedy built around extreme situations and then lamely attempts to tack on some heart long after the audience has lost interest in anyone on screen.
The problem begins with casting Jonah Hill in a role better designed for a Michael Cera or Jesse Eisenberg type. The 80’s teen characters were awkward dweebs who built sympathy through self awareness or, at least in Anthony Michael Hall’s case, through fake nerd bravado. Hill comes into The Sitter as a stubbornly lazy, defiantly irresponsible, willfully unpleasant college drop-out who is babysitting three kids he hates against his wishes. Moreover, there’s no innocent naivete to the triggering mechanism: Hill’s Noah, after oggling the mother’s boobs, takes these kids on the “adventure” because he wants to score some coke and screw his girlfriend.
The kids are no more likable: Max Records’ Slater is an oblivious neurotic teenager going through a sexual identity crisis; Landry Bender’s Blithe is an 8-year-old who wants to grow up to be a Kardashian; and the adopted Hispanic kid, Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), blows up toilets and urinates openly in public for no apparent reason. Noah takes the three to a drug dealer, Karl (Sam Rockwell), to score some coke; Rodrigo steals a dinosaur egg full of blow; it breaks open on Noah’s face; and Noah and the kids spend the rest of the movie attempting to come up with $10,000, pay off the coke dealer, and avoid getting shot.
The other obstacle, one that’s even more insurmountable than the casting of Jonah Hill, is David Gordon Green, a remarkable indie director who has proven with the uneven Pineapple Express and the deplorable Your Highness that he’s not a particularly skilled comedic director. Unlike his contemporaries, Nicholas Stoller and Judd Apatow, Green doesn’t layer comedy and heart and develop his characters organically. He takes a high concept, throws in profanities, and ignores character development. It doesn’t work. By the time he gets around to finding the humanity within Noah’s character, the deficit is too deep to overcome, and there’s an open question as to whether a comedic character played by Hill can even be redeemed. He’s ugly, and not because he’s overweight and unattractive: Hill’s stock comedy character is an asshole, and matters are not helped by the fact that he has two out-of-his-league love interests in The Sitter. The first, his girlfriend (Ari Graynor) is not too far fetched by Hollywood standards because she’s clearly a drug-addled mess using Noah; it’s the second (Kylie Bunbury), who likes Noah for his personality, that pushes it over the top.
Moreover, while Adventures in Babysitting and The Sitter are set up similarly, there are small differences detrimental to The Sitter: Elizabeth Shue in Adventures in Babysitting was trying to make the best of a bad situation; Noah wants to get laid. Shue’s character was forced into uncompromising situations; Noah selfishly invites those situations. Shue made mistakes; Noah just doesn’t care. At least until he does, but by that time, the audience doesn’t care anymore.
Still, The Sitter is not terrible, and it’s certainly not on the level of Your Highness. It’s just not a very good movie. It fails to take the right cues from many of the 80’s movies that so obviously influence it (there’s even a nod to the score of Better off Dead). Those movies wore their heart on their sleeves; The Sitter wears its dick on its sleeve, a fact that’s made all the more unpleasant because it’s Jonah Hill’s penis with which we have to contend.