You know, The Sitter must have been an easy pitch. Jonah Hill (“Sold! Oh wait, do continue…”) stars in a comedy from the director of Pineapple Express (“I’m getting my checkbook…”) as a foul-mouthed babysitter who takes a gaggle of brats on an After Hours type of adventure (“What’s After Hours…?”) through the big city, running afoul of a drug dealer played by Sam Rockwell in the process (“Can we start production yesterday?”). That’s a slam-dunk, that is. So why does it suck so hard?
To explain, we’re going to have to look at a fundamental comedy concept. Let’s look at “the pratfall.”
On the surface, the term “pratfall” is just a fancy word for falling down. A character in a comedy falls down, and it’s funny, right? Well, not necessarily. Tripping on a footstool is only funny if the person falling on their face has somewhere important to go. If you’re walking to your mailbox and fall over, it’s an outtake. If you fall over while trying to stop good-for-nothing kids from ruining your stuffy tea party with their reckless shenanigans, it’s a pratfall. The plot of The Sitter is meant to establish a series of elaborate pratfalls, in which Jonah Hill gets constantly sidetracked en route to a specific goal, but his motivation is so uninspired that the film simply falls down, flat and repeatedly.
Hill stars as Noah, a college student who reluctantly agrees to take over his Mom’s babysitting duties so she can go out on a date. The kids, obviously, are little brats. Slater (Max Records of Where the Wild Things Are) has paralyzing anxiety problems, Blithe (Landry Bender) worships the creepy oversexed reality TV party girl mentality, and adopted child Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) likes to blow things up with cherry bombs. What could have been a merely uncomfortable night of cleaning up their household messes turns into a wild night of unexpected misfortunes when Noah takes the kids on a trip to the big city, so he can buy cocaine for his pseudo-girlfriend, so that she’ll finally have sex with him.
Do you see the problem? There’s no sense of urgency there. Noah isn’t forced out of the house for suitably stressful reasons from the get-go, which would have established a breakneck pace that the repeated comic setbacks would have contrasted with. Just wanting to get laid doesn’t set a manic tone. Eventually, but too late, Noah runs afoul of a drug dealer played by Sam Rockwell and has to amass $10,000 in an hour to save his own life, but by then the damage has been done. The pace of the film has been set, and it’s lackadaisical. And Rockwell’s character is too “hilariously” sensitive to play as a major threat anyway.
The Sitter meanders throughout its paltry 81 minute running time, while similar films like Quick Change and, more obviously, Adventures in Babysitting thrived because the heroes’ motivations were more immediate. Yeah, you could argue that After Hours has a similarly selfish protagonist, but Martin Scorsese mined that conceit for an uncomfortable, even punishing atmosphere that has no place in supposedly feel good film like The Sitter, in which everyone learns a valuable lesson at the end. Even Noah somehow turns into a capable, responsible adult even though nothing he does actually justifies this supposed growth spurt of maturity. Every other character gets a moment of self-realization that inspires them to become better people. Noah? He just suddenly turns into a better person off-camera, in between comedy vignettes.
The Sitter is an interesting example of the trailer being better than the film, not because it gave away all the good scenes, but because the scenes are only funny in a vacuum. The Blu-ray, out March 20, has a fine transfer, and a bevy of special features including a gag reel and deleted scenes, but couldn’t be worth less of your time and money despite the added effort. The Sitter should just sit on it.