Movie fans that are expecting The Sitter to deliver an especially memorable trip to the theater may just want to give their own babysitter the night off, and stay home with the kids.

Despite a couple of memorable dramatic performances (see: Moneyball and Cyrus), Jonah Hill remains, largely (no pun), a go-to raunch-comedy player. Ever since his 2004 big screen introduction in David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees, Hill has built a high-profile career out of one awkward underdog character after another.

We’ve seen the actor portray an everyman in a variety of situations – high school student (Superbad), lazy slacker (Knocked Up), as well as record company intern (Get Him to the Greek). However, in The Sitter, Hill engages in one of his most over-the-top adventures yet – a night of babysitting that includes impressionable children, cherry bombs, cocaine dealers, gang-bangers, and an ill-fated “shart.” But do all of the irreverent hijinks add-up to a good time at the movies? Or just an excuse for Hill to engage in another awkward comedy scenario?

Unfortunately, the answer is somewhere in the middle, as The Sitter relies heavily on absurd, and often unfunny, set-piece moments. That said, for a film about the world’s worst babysitter, Hill and his underage comedy cohorts manage to imbue the proceedings with a decent amount of entertaining moments – and, even more surprisingly, a bit of heart.

The plot reads more like a Hollywood pitch than an actual story, as the over-arching narrative amounts to little more than Jonah Hill + audacious kids + murderous drug dealers = comedy gold. Much like Hill’s other characters, Noah Griffith is an underachiever who dropped out of college, doesn’t have a job, and can’t seem to stand-up for himself – including being used by his “girlfriend,” Marisa (Ari Graynor). However, Noah is galvanized into action when asked to babysit the Pedulla children – Slater (Max Records), Blithe (Landry Bender), and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) – so that his loving mom can go on a double-date with an eligible surgeon and the Pedulla parents. While tensions with the Pedulla kids are high right out of the gate, matters are further complicated when Marisa calls Noah from a party and offers to sleep with him – initiating a chaotic night where Noah, as well as Slater, Blithe, and Rodrigo, are chased by a blood-thirsty drug-dealer (Sam Rockwell), among other over-the-top situations.

Jonah Hill demonstrates his ‘Sitter’ skills

Anyone who has seen the trailer for the film (which you can check out at the bottom of our review) should have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The Sitter isn’t really a “dark” comedy, but it’s not going to appeal to everyone – specifically moviegoers who think that screaming obscenities at young children is in bad taste. That said, even for film fans who have enjoyed similar fare (most recently, Bad Teacher), The Sitter fails to deliver an abundance of laugh-out-loud moments. Hill offers his usual off-the-cuff one-liners, which are mostly hit or miss, and  in some cases, revisit the same kind of gag to the point of nausea (such as Noah entering a bar full of gang-banger types). It’s a mildly entertaining and middle-of-the-road role for Hill – but a far cry from his Superbad or Get Him to the Greek shticks.

That said, the Pedulla children somehow manage to elevate Hill’s performance a bit – and not just because of the odd-ball comedy pairings. The young actors, more than their adult counterparts, appear to know what kind of film they are in and have fun in their respective roles – which helps energize what could have been a pretty flat experience. Each of the kids is given relatively standard (albeit twisted) story arcs to overcome, and while the film doesn’t serve explosives expert Rodrigo with as much care as wannabe-Paris-Hilton Blithe or the older, but introverted, Slater, the children successfully manage to convey a trio with enjoyable onscreen chemistry and satisfying character dynamics (most of the time).

Landry Bender, Kevin Hernandez, and Max Records, in ‘The Sitter’

Despite Jonah Hill on the movie poster, Sam Rockwell – partnered here with J. B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm) – offers the most laughs in the film as out-of-his-mind cocaine dealer, Karl. The Karl-related set-pieces are especially absurd, but inject some variety in a movie that’s pretty formulaic and slow, at times.

Director, David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express and Your Highness) allows for a number of unneeded and thin detours meant to humanize Noah (a five-minute interlude with his estranged father) or offer light at the end of the “dark” comedy tunnel (alternate love-interest, Roxanne, played by Kylie Bunbury). That said, a lot of the non-essential story-arcs break up the jokes that work, without offering any compelling additions. A shorter version of the film would have been much tighter, and more entertaining, while a longer cut could have allowed the film to make use of the additional character drama. Unfortunately, this version of The Sitter falls into a middle ground that ultimately delivers thin characters and only so-so comedic momentum.

Despite a number of set-backs, some filmgoers will no doubt still enjoy a few gags in The Sitter – due to zany performances from Rockwell and J. B. Smoove, as well as enjoyable exchanges with the film’s younger stars. However, movie fans that are expecting The Sitter to deliver an especially memorable trip to the theater may just want to give their own babysitter the night off, and stay home with the kids.

If you’re still on the fence about The Sitter, check out the trailer below:

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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick – and let us know what you thought of the film below:

The Sitter is now in theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5