From time to time, I offer an installment in my "Annals of the Overrated." But I don't believe director David Gordon Green is worth an entire installment -- so let this review of his latest film, The Sitter, serve as his induction. Consider him officially overrated.
Green, you may recall, was a film school grad whose overrated debut film, George Washington, bamboozled critics into acclaiming him as the next big thing a few years ago, a prediction that has fallen predictably short. With twee, plotless films like All the Real Girls, Snow Angels and the semi-bearable Undertow, Green pretty much milked the genre of inarticulate people caught in unfortunate situations with no way out. He did it in ways that convinced some critics that his films actually were about something -- though he barely attracted audiences.
Then he teamed up with film-school colleague Danny McBride and McBride's new pal, Seth Rogen, for Pineapple Express, a film that was hailed as a raunchy comedy landmark. In fact, it only offered about 10 minutes of workably witty material (most of that involving Rogen and James Franco) and another hour or so of undisciplined action and violence. With Your Highness, the emperor was fully exposed: a film that claims a high spot on many "Worst of 2011" lists.
The Sitter is further proof that, while Green may recognize a comic situation, he doesn't know how to exploit it for more than the most obvious laughs. Even with reliable comic performers like Jonah Hill, the crafty and unpredictable Sam Rockwell and JB Smoove, Green can't generate any big chuckles in a movie loaded with such sure-fire laughs as groin-kicks and tots shouting obscenities.
The script by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka couldn't be more generic or, more accurately, more derivative (both, actually). It's Adventures in Babysitting 25 years later, with a guy instead of a girl. And since this is 2011, that guy that Hill plays, Noah Crawford is a slacker-loser, out of college, with no prospects. That's why he gets talked into babysitting: He has no other source of income -- and it will allow his divorced mom (Jessica Hecht) to be fixed up by a couple whose kids need minding.
The kids are a formulaic nightmare: an anxious adolescent, a 5-year-old Paris Hilton in training -- and a Hispanic foster child with anger-management issues. Very quickly, the girl that Noah lusts for (Ari Graynor) is on the phone, inviting him to a party with a promise of sex -- if he can deliver some cocaine. He tosses the kids into the family minivan and goes hunting to score so he can score.
Which leads to any number of obligatory and underwritten scenes: Noah and his young charges in the den of a drug dealer (Sam Rockwell), from whom the foster child steals $10K of cocaine, then spills it. Which means that Noah now has to repay the drug dealer -- and still hook up with his girlfriend and have the kids home by 1 a.m.
Admirable goals for any wild comedy -- providing the writers can make it funny. Gatewood and Tanaka don't. Gordon plays traffic cop, helping orchestrate the multi-car pileup that constitutes the humor in the wan and witless The Sitter.
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