Please Note: The screengrabs used here are taken from the standard-definition DVD included in the set, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
It's kind of amazing how much of a whiffle ball The Sitter is. This raunchy comedy is so tepid, it's almost impressive. I recall laughing out loud only once in its short run time, and now that a few hours have passed, I can't for the life of me think at what. The Sitter leaves that little of an impression.
The premise for the script by first-time screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka has an easily sellable premise: Jonah Hill plays Noah, a wayward twentysomething living at home with his mother who accepts a babysitting job with the neighbors so they can take his mom out for the night. (Read: Noah is lazy, but not a bad guy; he loves his mom for paying his bills.) The three children in Noah's care are Slater (Max Records, Where the Wild Things Are), an anxiety-ridden adolescent; Blithe (Landry Bender), an elementary-aged girl obsessed with clubbing and celebrity culture; and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), an immigrant boy the family has adopted. Rodrigo likes blowing things up, which will be an important detail in Noah's night from hell. Despite orders not to go anywhere, Noah takes his charges on a joyride in the family minivan when his user of a non-girlfriend (the always excellent Ari Graynor, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) calls him promising sex if he brings her cocaine. She sets it up that he will buy the drugs from a whacked-out bodybuilding enthusiast named Karl (Sam Rockwell, Moon). What could go wrong?
Everything, of course. Blithe poops her pants and Rodrigo drops a cherry bomb down a toilet in a restaurant, and then he steals coke from Karl and Karl demands $10K or Noah is going to eat a bullet. Along the way to trying to get the money, Noah will deal with his daddy issues, solve all three kids' individual problems, and run into a cute girl (Kylie Bunbury, Prom) who always had a crush on him in college and would make a way better love interest than the selfish party animal Noah is currently obsessing over. It's not altogether predictable, but it's close.
In truth, on paper, The Sitter sounds pretty solid. There is a lot of talent here, and director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Eastbound & Down) has some good ideas on how to play the tone of the piece. The conceit, of course, is the incongruity of invading the dark underbelly of New York City nightlife with three youngsters in tow--albeit youngsters who are maybe a little more worldly than kids should be. We're meant to laugh at how harsh and wrong it is for a little girl in blue eye shadow to be rapping along with 2 Live Crew. Seems pretty simple. Too bad it doesn't work.
It's difficult to say where The Sitter goes wrong. As with last year's Bad Teacher, everyone in this movie is doing good work, and so there is no obvious gaff that shows where it all fell apart. Sam Rockwell is paired with J.B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm) to play the heavies, and their amped-up performances are the closest to getting it right. Their interplay, both verbal and physical, is flawlessly executed. They seem dangerous. Green allows their scenes to slip into some surreal territory. Karl surrounds himself with vaguely homosexual muscle men who work out by smashing brick walls and playing games with giant chess pieces. It's like Karl and Julio (Smoove) live in the Alfred Molina scene from Magnolia 24-7. Perhaps if Green had infused The Sitter with more of this kind of daring, the final film would have the sort of off-kilter, everything-goes mania that made Pineapple Express such an insane delight. Instead, these brief encounters do little more than make us wonder what might have been.
The high-def presentation of The Sitter is widescreen, 1080p, and AVC encoded. It is mostly excellent, with strong resolution and a good attention made to color and texture. Enhancement is minimal, ensuring that the film still looks like a film, with only some minor hiccups. A few scenes get a tad hazy, with evident tracers following the moving bodies. This is not a consistent issue, nor are the few times it happens that extensive. Overall, a pretty solid effort on the studio's part, working well with the source material to deliver viewers the intended cinematic experience.
There are two cuts of the film, the 81-minute theatrical release and the 87-minute extended cut. I don't know what the difference is, this is my first time seeing the movie and I don't want to watch it twice. I mean, would you if you didn't like it? There is scant chance that the difference of six minutes is going to make anyone change their mind about the movie. "Oh, it was those six minutes that made the movie suck!" If you saw and liked The Sitter in its original run, there is more here for you, have at it!
The soundtrack gets a robust DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Dialogue rings through loud and crisp, balanced nicely with the music cues (mostly some pretty excellent old-school hip-hop) and the sound effects in the more action-oriented scenes. There is a lot of nice surround work going on here, creating an energetic atmosphere that comes off as more lively than maybe the material deserves.
Alternate tracks include a descriptive English option, and French and Spanish versions also mixed in 5.1. Subtitles are Spanish and English Closed Captioning.
The Sitter comes as a multi-disc combo. In addition to the Blu-Ray, consumers get a regular DVD with the theatrical cut and also access to a digital download of the full movie. The BD has a bunch of extras, all of which are in 1080p high-definition. They are as follows:
* Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes (26 minutes): A combination of ten different sequence, including more from the beginning scene with Graynor (making Noah look like an even bigger loser, but setting up the kickboxing character better), extra weirdness at the drug buy, and an alternate showdown between Noah and Karl. It's essentially more of the same--the scenes with the kids outside the van, Karl hugging the drag queen, and the party extras don't seem any different than what is in the uncut version (and may be the unrated additions)--so it's clear the quality was not left on the cutting room floor.
* Gag Reel (2:36): Your usual bloopers, crack-ups, etc.
* Sits-N-Giggles (3:10): A collection of alternate improvisations.
* For Your Consideration (1:00): Landry Bender doing the human beatbox and robot and animal impressions.
* Jonah the Producer (5:00): A comedic "behind-the-scenes" with Jonah Hill acting as the boss on set, interacting with the child actors and their parents.
* The Making of The Sitter (15:22): Your more standard behind-the-scenes-featurette.
* Theatrical trailer
Skip It. The Sitter is a nice try, but nary a cigar is in sight in this limply realized comedy. Nor are there any laughs. David Gordon Green and company give their best effort, but sometimes things just don't work out--and this is one of those times. Jonah Hill gives a solid performance as an unfocused post-college loser on the worst night of his life, getting involved in a drug situation while babysitting three messed-up kids. It is a common and usuall dependanle comedic set-up, but in this case, the payoff never comes. The Sitter is not terrible, per se...it's just a whole lot of nothing.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.