'The Sitter' (R)

One more reason to hate the ’80s: All the terrible comedies that pay homage to the vacuous decade. The Sitter isn’t as bad as Hot Tub Time Machine or Take Me Home Tonight. It is much, much worse. This odious, hypocritical movie marks director David Gordon Green’s devolution into full-on hack. How did the guy who once made such artful pictures as George Washington and All the Real Girls and Undertow arrive here? Does money corrupt that quickly? Did the success of Pineapple Express suddenly make Green forget everything that once interested him about film? His last movie, Your Highness, was also a dud, but at least you could respect its ambition. The Sitter, however, is a crass cash grab – a bottom-feeder entertainment that insults bottom feeders.

Written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka (this is their first produced screenplay), the movie comes on all cheerfully disreputable. We meet the portly Noah (Jonah Hill) as he’s showing the pretty Marisa (Ari Graynor) some “mouth love,” an act she’s unwilling to reciprocate. When his mother, divorced and single, asks Noah to babysit her friends’ kids so she can go out on a date, he reluctantly agrees. But he regrets his decision the moment he meets his young charges: The anxiety-ridden Slater (Max Records), the rebellious Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) and the precocious Blithe (Landry Bender), who is obsessed with becoming a celebrity and talks about nightclubs and partying even though she’s eight.

If you’ve seen Adventures in Babysitting, you know what happens next: Circumstances force Noah to drag the kids into adult situations, including a visit to a drug den, a robbery at a jewelry store and a high-speed car chase complete with flying bullets. The Sitter strives to be subversive and heartwarming at the same time, but it only succeeds at being offensive. Sam Rockwell plays a gay cocaine dealer who surrounds himself with bodybuilders and roller-skating queens, and Samira Wiley is a former classmate of Noah who enjoys threatening Caucasians with her fellow hip-hop thugs. The movie tries to mine laughs from its mincing homos and scary black people, then excuses its racist, prejudiced stereotypes by making one of the kids gay and giving Jonah an African-American love interest (Kylie Bunbury). See? We’re only kidding! We don’t really mean it! This is the Birth of a Nation of low-brow comedies.

The Sitter makes a wan attempt to channel the 1980s via name-checking and ridiculously obscure cameos. American Anthem and I Come in Peace are playing on the TV; Morrissey and Bel Biv DeVoe get quick shout-outs; Escape (The Pina Colada Song) and Apache (Jump on It) are heard on the soundtrack. There’s a joke about “the two redrum chicks from The Shining,” one of the few lines in the movie that’s funny. But The Sitter is so moribund that even Hill, who also served as executive producer, looks zonked-out and anesthetized. The story is completely devoid of any kind of sense whatsoever: A kid’s cherry bomb blows up half a building, and the impending geomagnetic storm that everyone makes such a fuss over at the beginning of the film is completely forgotten. Green, whose previous movies all had a nice visual style, can’t even come up with a single memorable image. This is a crummy, hateful picture. Happy holidays!

Cast: Jonah Hill, Max Records, Landry Bender, Kevin Hernandez, Sam Rockwell, Ari Graynor, Kylie Bunbury, J.B. Smoove, Samira Wiley.

Director: David Gordon Green.

Screenwriters: Brian Gatewood, Alessandro Tanaka.

Producer: Michael DeLuca.

A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 87 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, drug use, brief violence, horrific stereotypes. Opens Friday Dec. 9 at area theaters.


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