Conversely, the more ludicrous humor of the film is almost a strange and jarring juxtaposition next to the pedestrian and uninspired narrative. It’s as if the film is at war with itself – on one hand actively trying to engage and please a mainstream audience with no apologies and – and on the other trying to sneak in as much left-of-center and outré moments to please the filmmaker. The third film in Green’s mainstream comedy trilogy (that includes, “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness”), 'Sitter' finds Jonah Hill playing a idle, twenty-something slacker named Noah coerced into taking care of a trio of disparate children for one very long evening. And that’s about as much depth, surprises or high-minded subtext the film can offer. Hill takes the three kids around and they get into zany, perilous adventures, the end. It also feels like it’s on the clock and the film races to launch its protagonist into the first act crisis that propels the story forward. But as hackneyed as the story is, “The Sitter” often, and surprisingly, gets by on its patchy charms and on the strength of Hill and supporting actor Sam Rockwell’s strong comedic performances.
However, those fumes can only last for so long. Characters ping-pong around an increasingly dangerous urban nighttime landscape, but it also feels somewhat directionless and by the end you're about ready for David Gordon Green, the nuanced filmmaker behind bittersweet romance "All the Real Girls," to give up the goofy comedy reins for a little while.
Once he visits the household he’ll have to look after that evening, the core dynamic of the movie – that of foul-mouthed Jonah Hill versus precocious children – takes hold. Slater (Max Records from "Where the Wild Things Are") is fussy and neurotic, constantly seized by anxious fits and concerned because his best friend refuses to hang out with him; Blithe (Landry Bender) is a pop culture princess who wants to be a reality television star; and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) is an unpredictable adopted member of the family from Central America, mostly there in an effort to save the parents' rocky marriage.
The plot point that propels the dumb-guys-making-dumb decisions cliché is sex. Graynor wants cocaine and persuades Noah to bring her some and in exchange, Noah will finally get laid. Noah is reluctant but concedes after she coos, "I was thinking we could have sex." With that, we're off as Noah "borrows" the family minivan (already off-limits), shoves the kids in the car, and they head out for their wild night.
It's just that, more often than not, in the struggle between idiosyncrasy and mainstream comedy, the mainstream often wins out. You can tell that David Gordon Green was emulating Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" more than "Adventures in Babysitting," as the movie gets wilder and darker, but often times opportunities for conflict are merely forgotten about or easily dismissed as the film races towards the finish line. You can feel the movie Green set out to make and it's constantly at odds with what wound up on screen.
Additionally, the movie has a pronounced stylistic dimension missing from the glut of comedies these days thanks largely to Tim Orr's cinematography and the well-cultivated soundtrack featuring classic hip hop jams. While the script often falters, the craftsmanship is never in question. In fact, the movie is so spirited, so go-for-broke fun, that it's easy to overlook its numerous shortcomings. David Gordon Green has expressed interest in walking away from the comedy template for a while, to focus on things like his long gestating remake of "Suspiria," and after watching "The Sitter" you'll agree that he needs to give the genre a breather. As good a time as "The Sitter" is, Green needs a night off. [B-]