The Sitter: Film Review

It's back to the '80s for David Gordon Green in formula-worshipping comedy.

Jonah Hill bites off more than he can chew in this '80s up-all-night comedy.

Replacing Elizabeth Shue with Jonah Hill can't be anyone's idea of an upgrade, but the former's spunky Adventures in Babysitting innocence would be a couple of notches too nice for The Sitter, David Gordon Green's attempt to infuse the 1987 film's setup with the grit and strangeness of other up-all-nighters by Scorsese and Demme. The fusion works far better than Green's sword-and-sandal-and-stoners dud Your Highness, but is unlikely to connect with audiences like his previous '80s riff Pineapple Express.

Hill plays loser Noah Griffith, who facilitates a rare night out for his divorced mom by babysitting her friend's three children -- any one of whom would be more than he can handle. A coddled neurotic, a wannabe celebutante, and a Salvadoran foster kid who loves blowing things up, the three adolescent nightmares hint at how broadly screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka will draw characters throughout the film, particularly when it comes to African-Americans.

Hill's character may be less thin than the rest, but little effort is put into convincing us he'd make the series of dumb decisions The Sitter requires in order to keep him running through Manhattan and Brooklyn in the wee hours. A transparently dishonest phone call from Marisa (Ari Graynor) is all it takes to make Noah pack the kids into a stolen minivan and go in search of the cocaine he thinks will convince Marisa to have sex with him. (Where, we wonder, are the siblings supposed to wait during this couple's tender moment?) Before the night's out, he'll be responsible for two stolen cars, a pocketful of diamonds, a few demolished bathrooms and enough wasted coke to turn a pool table snow white.

In the midst of the familiar hijinks and confrontations that get between Noah and satisfaction, one is weird enough to remember: Sam Rockwell's "Karl with a K," a gregarious gangster who packs his drugs in dinosaur eggs and hires effeminate bodybuilders as enforcers, isn't really new territory for the actor, but Rockwell gets more than his share of the film's laughs hamming through it.

Hill shows less snark and agitation than usual here, and the restraint serves him well during the one sequence -- Noah counseling a kid who doesn't yet know he's gay -- in which the movie actually cares more about believability than retro affectations. All things considered, though, the kids would be a lot better off with Elizabeth Shue.