- - Thursday, December 8, 2011

At just 81 minutes, “The Sitter” is a short movie. It’s still too long.

The best you can say about it is that it doesn’t aim too high. Given the number of comedies released in recent years about aimless, profane, but basically nice young men, there’s little left worth saying about the contemporary slacker contingent. The burgeoning genre — call it the man-child movie — is stuck, much like the young men these movies often feature.

To its (partial) credit, “The Sitter” doesn’t even try to say anything interesting or original. Instead, its ambitions are as limited as those of its hero. It wants to be funny, and a little sweet, and maybe just zany enough that you don’t forget about it immediately after leaving the theater.

Sadly, it doesn’t even live up to its modest ambitions. It’s crude but not outrageous, absurd not amusing, bizarre but not memorable. “The Sitter” is a movie that tries far too hard, yet still seems lazy.

As Noah Griffith, Jonah Hill (a fixture in man-child cinema) plays an archetypal kidult — a jobless college dropout who lives with his mother after being abandoned by his father. He’s crude, he’s lazy, and he’s also a sap — dutifully sticking by a quasi-girlfriend (Ari Graynor) who constantly abuses his kindness and generally appears to have no redeeming qualities aside from the fact that she lets him tag along.

The fun starts when Noah gets stuck baby-sitting three little ones belonging to his mother’s friend. I hesitate to call them children, because these tiny terrors resemble no children I’ve ever met.

Instead, they’re more like underwritten sketch-comedy concepts brought to life in child form. There’s Blythe, an elementary school-aged party girl, obsessed with makeup and clubbing; there’s Slater, a preternaturally good looking pre-teen with deep anxiety issues and a fanny pack full of medication; and there’s Rodrigo, a cherry-bomb packing pyromaniac adopted from El Salvador.

Each represents a single joke, and, at best, a single laugh. Yet the movie offers endless repetition, with minimal variation, on each of their tics. The supporting characters are similarly one-note: The presence of a spastic, gay, bodybuilding coke dealer (Sam Rockwell, who nearly succeeds in drawing humorous blood from this unfunny stone) is typical of the movie’s insistence on nonsense hijinks that aren’t nearly as funny as the filmmakers seem to think. (Were they genuinely so amused by the double meaning of “dropping bombs in toilets” — as Rodrigo does — that they found it necessary to repeat at least three variations on the joke?)

Director David Gordon Green’s last two films — the yuk-free fantasy farce “Your Highness” and the druggy action comedy “Pineapple Express” — were explicit stoner films. “The Sitter” ditches the bongs, but emanates from the same hazy thinking. Which is to say that the answer to the obvious question — were they high? — is probably yes. No wonder it’s got such low ambitions.

★ ★ (out of four)

TITLE: “The Sitter”

CREDITS: Directed by David Gordon Green, screenplay by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka

RATING: R for drug use, vulgar sexual humor, violence

RUNNING TIME: 81 minutes



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