Jonah Hill, not sitting pretty
"The Sitter’’ is “Adventures in Babysitting’’ airlifted into Judd Apatow’s neck of the woods, and most of you can safely stop reading right there. Instead of perky Elisabeth Shue, we get Jonah Hill at his most toadlike, crass racial and sexual stereotypes, more drugs than a DEA evidence room, reckless child endangerment, language to drop a nun, and a very strange whiteboy crush on all things black and urban.
Laughs? It has a few of those, too. “The Sitter’’ pushes the envelope with such sloppy gusto that you have to give in occasionally, and its comic timing finds its rhythm about every fifth joke. At one particularly disastrous turn of events, one of the kids says, “I can’t decide whether this is funny or not,’’ and it’s all right if you feel the same way.
Just so you know what you’re getting into, the movie opens with Hill performing oral sex. (Hello? Anyone still here?) The recipient is a shrill user named Marisa (Ari Graynor) who, later in the film, asks Noah (Hill) to score some cocaine and bring it to a big New York party. The problem is that by then he has agreed to baby-sit three neighborhood kids so his mother (Jessica Hecht) can go on a date.
Noah is set up as a loser - kicked out of college, lives with mom - and the movie’s about how he gets his mojo back over a long night of car chases, exploding dinosaur eggs full of coke, ’roid-raging drug dealers (Sam Rockwell, stooping to conquer), and a pool hall full of angry African Americans. The kids are a trio of comic dysfunction: neurotic Slater (Max Records), slutty l’il Blithe (Landry Bender), and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), an adopted El Salvadoran boy who’s the movie’s least politically correct character and also its least funniest.
By evening’s end, Noah will have solved all their personal problems, found an extremely improbable romance with ex-classmate Roxanne (Kylie Bunbury), and persuaded all those tough Harlemites that he’s a player like them. Hill can jive-talk with the best of them, but there’s a graduate seminar’s worth of unexamined cultural and racial attitudes here. There are also scenes like the one where Noah has to buy Blithe clean underwear in a clothing store full of righteous black mommas who look at him and assume exactly the same thing you would.
By the way, is it OK to wonder what alien has taken over David Gordon Green’s body? After spending the early 2000s turning out sensitive indie dramas like “George Washington’’ and “All the Real Girls,’’ the director has become the go-to guy for broad, crude, druggy comedies, some of them inspired (“Pineapple Express’’) and some unwatchable (“Your Highness’’). “The Sitter’’ lands in the middle of those two, and it suggests that if Green really has made a deal with the devil, the devil’s not keeping his end of the bargain.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.