An R-rated comedy starring someone from the Judd Apatow crowd as an apathetic babysitter probably sounded like gold at the pitch meeting, but “The Sitter” — with Jonah Hill in the lead, directed by David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) — is an oddly frantic and mostly unfunny mess.
Noah is a selfish twentysomething layabout who lives with his mom (Jessica Hecht) and has a one-sided relationship with a the awful Marisa (Ari Graynor), who uses him for her needs and won’t give anything in return, if you know what I mean. One night Noah helps his mother out by babysitting a neighbor’s children: 13-year-old Slater (Max Records), neurotic and anxious; Blithe (Landry Bender), who’s obsessed with celebutantes and club culture even though she’s something like 7 years old; and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), an El Salvadoran adoptee who likes to detonate cherry bombs and commit other acts of destruction. Marisa calls to ask for a favor involving a cocaine dealer (Sam Rockwell), and this leads to Noah and the kids dashing around Manhattan, getting into trouble, having hijinks, and so forth.
Written by first-timers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, the film won’t make a commitment on what type of character we’re dealing with. Sometimes Noah is reckless and inappropriate, like the awful authority figures at the center of “Bad Teacher” and “Bad Santa”; other times he’s trying to do his job but has a hard time controlling the brats he’s in charge of. Is the humor supposed to come from the babysitter’s apathy, or from the kids’ destruction of him? The kids’ wildness doesn’t matter if the sitter doesn’t care anyway.
There are multiple weird details scattered throughout that are pleasantly puzzling, like the coke dealer’s obsession with ranking his friends, and Noah’s absurd interactions with various dangerous types. But other elements just seem underdone, as if somebody had an idea for something to add and never came back to it. The bizarre humor is sometimes loopy enough to get a “what the hell?” laugh, but overall it’s unfocused and sloppy.
D+ (1 hr., 21 min.; )