Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:27 pm 
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Taking the kids out to buy cocaine

The Sitter begins with a promising situation, though whether it promises comedy or merely danger and mayhem is debatable. As it turns out, except for ten minutes or so when its loutish, overweight hero (Jonah Hill) winds up at an all-black gangster bar with three children he's babysitting and the jive talking becomes inspired (the best of this is in the trailer), the action is barely even mildly amusing, let alone funny, though it does make constant efforts to be shocking or outrageous -- a game it's harder and harder to win at nowadays. (Kevin Smith can hit it in something like Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but Smith has ideas, and those aren't much in evidence here.)

The action, which includes stealing cars and diamonds and cocaine, will appeal to those who enjoy watching wildly irresponsible young adults with partially deranged, damaged, or dangerous children in tow. Others may do better to avoid The Sitter and go to see Hugo or The Muppets. There is something raw and loose about Sitter, but there have been many better long, wild nights. Despite Hill's impressive glibness; the off-the-wall, sociopathic antics of Sam Rockwell as a drug dealer; J.B. Smoove and Sean Patrick Doyle as the dealer's colorful employees; and the talented child actors, Max Records (star of Where the Wild Things Are), Landry Bender, and Kevin Hernandez, this is, otherwise, another step down for the once-promising David Gordon Green, who directed serious indie films like George Washington, All the Real Girls, and Undertow and produced Shotgun Stories, took a partially successful dip (thanks to James Franco) into stoner comedy with Pineapple Express, then sank to the boring and crude Your Highness (again with Franco, dragged down by Green's TV cohort Danny McBride)-- and now this.

The lout is Noah Griffith (Jonah Hill), a college student with a DUI conviction on suspension from college and living with his mom, Sandy (Jessica Hecht, who played Emma Goldman in J. Edgar). Somehow he winds up babysitting three oddly assorted kids so Sandy can go on a date. But his girlfriend Roxanne (Ari Graynor), or rather the brassy, coke-abusing party girl he'd like to think is his girlfriend, calls him inviting him to a party and insisting he score some blow on the way. He can only do this by taking the three kids along. They are Slater (Records), a neurotic, fearful 13-year-old with a fanny pack full of pills; adorable tyke Blithe (Bender), an aspiring celebrity; and the dangerous adopted Salvadoran Rodrigo (Hernandez), who likes to blow up toilets: each is a shtick. Blithe gets down in the black dive bar, dancing with prostitutes. Noah tells Slater he's gay and "normal" and persuades him to throw away his pills. Noah stands down Rodrigo, who eventually turns friendly.

The endlessly good-natured and forgiving Roger Ebert says, as we all could, that he's "so very, very tired of movies like this" and calls it "another slice off the cheesecake of dreck." He points out that the scene where the white doofus enters a bar full of menacing whites-hating black men and wins them over is a routine we've seen very often before, and he's right. He's also right that despite Rodrigo's penchant for blowing up things, the three kids are "blameless." David Gordon Green, however, should be ashamed. Jonah Hill should be doing something much better, and astonishingly, he is doing something not only better but serious, playing the nerd who revolutionizes baseball in the Oscar contender, Moneyball. He also lost a considerable amount of weight for Moneyball, and that was a good idea too.

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