Sometimes disappointment is part of the cultural experience: Lost ended badly (and took forever to get there), there won’t be a sixth season of The Wire, and David Gordon Green, erstwhile heir to Terrence Malick’s throne, is now content to make terrible movies, simply because they make good business sense. The Judd Apatow-produced Pineapple Express, of course, remains the unlikely but, in retrospect, incontrovertible tipping point—though some of the DNA for the George Washington auteur’s Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation can be found in All the Real Girls, with the juvenile antics of future Eastbound & Down star (and DGG fixture) Danny McBride.
The Sitter, a pint-sized comedy that barely exceeds an hour once you trim off the opening and closing titles, is built from the Superbad blueprint by way of Adventures in Babysitting: Through ridiculous and lugubrious circumstances, jobless no-account Noah Griffith (Jonah Hill, who tries mightily) makes bad choice after bad choice when he’s put in charge of a trio of kids. Homophobic and racist stereotypes are paraded with hip, winking self-awareness; near-lethal encounters are developed and abandoned carelessly; unearned seriousness passes like a kidney stone, right on schedule during the third act. In the final analysis, it’s nothing more than a sloppy screenplay, directed without verve, acted with undeserved commitment by a gallery of strong actors.
Characteristic of the new, Apatow-influenced Green is the strangeness of the depths our hero finds himself navigating. Like a rancid spoof of the far more generous, quasi-utopian sideshow Big Apple depicted on Bored to Death, The Sitter‘s idea of Gotham’s bowels consists of a coke dealer who can afford an epic bodybuilding farm and a dive bar where tough-looking black men and women have nothing better to do than wait for some conceited white guy to prove his mettle by taking a punch from a girl.
The Sitter seems to have a “You must forgive the puerile content because it’s meant to be ironic” self-aware attitude. I’m not convinced, as self-awareness doesn’t always connote self-interrogation. If you’re going to populate your film with idiots making bad choices, you should try and make your effects resonate, either with intelligent commentary or a spirit of generosity. When Sam Rockwell’s psychotic drug kingpin takes solace on the shoulders of a muscle-bound transsexual, when Noah has a heart-to-heart with closeted teen Slater (Max Records), are we supposed to consider the film retroactively redeemed? I might consider it, if such moments didn’t, in and of themselves, feel as cheap and cobbled-together as the rest of the whole enterprise.
It's hard to get excited about high-definition images when the images are so mediocre: gone are the archetypal, autumnal hues of George Washington and All the Real Girls, replaced by badly-composed horseplay, run through a Digital Intermediate process of mildew and wretchedness. Nevertheless, I find no bones to pick with Fox's transfer of The Sitter, which was—surprisingly—shot on 35mm. Some ineptness—or divine mercy?—in the original sound design leads to a lot of instances where the music almost completely drowns out the dialogue; while this is faithfully reproduced by DTS 5.1 English track, it doesn't exactly leave one with an impression of a great audio experience.
Jonah Hill and company stay in character, more or less, in the supplements, which include the usual run of deleted scenes and whatnot. For example, in "Jonah the Producer," the star of the film makes a pass at the child actors' parents; in the making-of featurette, he jokingly fires the sound man. Most of it is strictly scraps, like Landry Bender having a go-crazy noise-fest against a green chroma-key background.
The unfunny flies fast and furious in Fox's unremarkable Blu-ray presentation of David Gordon Green's latest letdown.