There is in Jonah Hill a palpable undertone of menace. When playing his usual lovable schlub, or especially when playing a character such as the titular CYRUS, who may or may not actually be unhinged, there is always the distinct potential lurking in the piercing gaze when his character stops talking, that the next move he makes could either be a shrug, a quip, or deadly force. And any of those moves would make sense. It is that quality that is the saving grace of THE SITTER, a ramshackle comedy-suspense hybrid that brings little originality, but a whole lot of chutzpah.
Hill is once again the schlub, introduced as his character, Noah, is pleasuring the girl he adores, but who doesnt adore him back. Nor is will she return the favor. Noah amiably accepts an excuse that doesnt even do him the favor of trying to be believable. The evening will get worse before it gets better. Being a basically decent guy, if still more child than adult, he agrees to baby sit to please his mother, but instead of a quiet night of burritos in front of the television, he and his three charges will prowl the streets of New York City, crossing paths with an aesthete drug dealer (Sam Rockwell) with a penchant for renovations, ranking friends, and body builders, than a tony Bat Mitzvah, and then the potential love of Noahs life. A life that may not see the sun rise.
The tropes are familiar. The kids are misunderstood, spoiled, and directionless. The youngest (Landry Bender) is a six-year-old fashion victim who worships celebutantes, her preppy adolescent brother (Max Records) has anxiety issues and a fanny-pack full of pills to assuage them, and the newly adopted Hispanic brother (Kevin Hernandez) who likes things that go boom. He likes them a whole lot. The four of them sail through the darkness, confronting their fears and then enjoying cathartic conversations about confronting their fears. Hill has both the gravitas and the empathy to make that work as well as possible, the edginess to make an improvised rap to gain entrance to a dive play cool but with the necessary soupcon of desperation, as well as the comedic instincts that make farce of tragedy, and existential absurdity of nightmares. As does Rockwell as we waves a pistol before, after, and sometimes while hugging things out with his potential victim.
Director David Gordon Green, the man who directed PINEAPPLE EXPRESS as well as SHOTGUN STORIES, has given THE SITTER the pacing of the latter and his choice defies explanation. It hinders a script that is already lacking in big surprises, and undercuts the small ones peppered throughout.
By the end, of course, Noah has seen the light and become a man. Things funny and serious have happened in an uncertain proportion, and the audience is left hoping for another pairing of Hill and Rockwell, and a better script with which they can work.