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There's nothing wrong with a comedy that treads familiar ground-- if you ask some people, there are only so many kinds of comedy stories you can tell without repeating yourself anyway. But in The Sitter, David Gordon Green slavishly recreates 80s comedies like Adventures in Babysitting and Uncle Buck in all the worst ways, relying on cheap jokes, illogical plotting and occasional ugly stereotypes to tell a story that feels exhausting as soon as it begins. Even with a few flashes of weirdness that reveal Green's own personality, and some gonzo supporting performances that momentarily brighten things up, The Sitter is dull and instantly forgettable, a nostalgia trip that takes you nowhere worth going.
Jonah Hill, back in the schlubby stoner mode that was his go-to before his Moneyball transformation earlier this year, plays a college dropout slacker who's wrangled into a babysitting gig thanks to a rare flash of compassion for other people, namely wanting his mom to have a good night out. Hill's character Noah is basically a caricature of a 20-something slacker, with a personality that shifts constantly based on what the circumstances call for-- his selfish impulses, interest in astronomy and fondness for fake urban speak are not character traits, but handy hooks from which the thin plot dangles. The three kids he's put in charge of are at least consistent, but no more believable-- Slater (Max Records) is a neurotic headcase who watches male gymnastics for fun, Blithe (Landry Bender) is an aspiring club girl at the ripe age of 7, and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) is newly adopted and so misunderstood that he sets off pipe bombs for attention.
Noah obviously doesn't have especially good intentions when he packs the kids into a minivan and drives into a city, but he thinks it should be easy: pick up the cocaine his awful girlfriend (Ari Graynor) asked him for, have sex with her at some random Greenpoint party, and be back by the kids' bedtimes. It takes no time for this to all go awry, and while there's a lot of comedic potential in the setups-- Noah taking Blithe into a discount store to buy her new underwear, Noah picking up the coke from the bodybuilding-crazed dealer (Sam Rockwell)-- they hew so closely to the formula that there's no fun in it at all. Green has used his big imagination primarily to stuff the movie with out of place 80s references, but aside from a handful of non sequitur jokes, they mostly erode the thin believability of the movie while not being all that funny to begin with.
Being a light comedy-- though R-rated and plenty foul mouthed-- The Sitter didn't need to go for high drama or big action, but there's almost nothing at stake throughout the film, no sense of danger to Noah or any of the kids, and no believable character development once the night's shenanigans are through. Green seemed to want to take the thin script by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka and turn it into something that captured the spirit of those 80s comedies it apes, but it's more of a weak, inexplicable copy than anything to actually honor them.