You sort of have to hand it to The Sitter. Though the premise is re-heated (man-boy in over his head with evil psychotic children) and the outcome largely predictable (everyone dies), the execution of the film is solid. There are jokes, these jokes make you laugh, and in going brutally dark early and often The Sitter manages to bring some authenticity to the enterprise. It's a laudable thing, because the temptation had to have been to bail out of the rougher "kids in peril" comedy and end up with some terrible amalgamation of Kindergarten Cop meets Daddy Day Care. The Sitter does not do that. It features gangster rap and people getting shot; it does not care for your soft comedy.
Jonah Hill is a dropout who relies on his momma for sustenance. He's hanging out on the couch, watching some tele, blending in, when a babysitting gig is presented to him in the form of "you should REALLY do this." He does, but in the meantime a young lady who is taking advantage of their relationship asks him to pick up some cocaine for them to partake in. So there he is, watching three youngsters, in desperate need of the nose candy, with Slick Rick booming in the background. It's Superbad meets Kick-Ass, though those are superior films. Still, not a bad pedigree. Far funnier than Your Highness, The Sitter feels like an evolution of the talent director David Gordon Green momentarily flashed in Pineapple Express.
The three children Hill has been tasked with safeguarding are all blissfully demented. Max Records, whom you'll recall from Where the Wild Things Are is hooked on prescription meds and wound tighter than a fighter pilot from Top Gun drinking Red Bull. Landry Bender is the kid sister who uses too much makeup and aspires to be Paris Hilton. Kevin Hernandez is a preteen who enjoys homemade explosives, which is just as festive as it sounds. All three of the younger actors have nice moments and exhibit decent comic timing. But it's during the random moments The Sitter truly excels. Goofball comedy at its finest, where no one learns and no one grows, drug dealer Karl (Sam Rockwell) provides both a backdrop and characterization that's rarely seen in a film with even a moderate production budget. Jonah Hill continues his streak of steady performances, which brings us to our question and answer portion of the review. When's the last time Jonah Hill was in a bad film? Evan Almighty, back in ought-7? Regardless of your personal Jonah Hill theorems, his efforts as Noah Griffith, the dorky and unemployed "put upon" man largely work.
Other than about 15 minutes, The Sitter features respectable laughs. So what keeps The Sitter from "can't-miss" superstardom? The narrative trope that it all must "mean something." It's as if the script decided to play a round of golf with a pool cue, and then, upon taking the lead, went back to using the five-iron instead of sustaining the momentum. Strange. Still, the idea that we're talking about the relative merits of The Sitter has to count as a win given the dearth of available comedy in theaters. That factor, paired with the film's modest ambition, makes this a worthy Friday night offering. Which is more than you could say for most babysitting jobs.