Humor takes a backseat to Hollywood tropes in the Jonah Hill vehicle <em>The Sitter</em>.

Part of the fun in checking out bad comedies (and yes, “fun” is the proper word) involves contemplating what makes them so bad, what makes their jokes misfire and the overall vehicle teeter into the lower depths of the Rotten Tomatoes patch. In the case of the holiday turkey The Sitter, one curious observation might be that the more active it becomes, the more plot-thickened and larded up with audacious setups and taboos, the more it just, well, sits there, living up to its title in an unexpected way.

Certainly, there’s something fascinating about the substantial and fundamentally quirky Jonah Hill filling the big screen, and that accounts for what marginal interest this movie holds. But beyond that, the transgressive tale of an accidental babysitter who takes his young charges on a perilous nocturnal joyride in N.Y.C. is a comedy of errors with some serious errors in the making.

Its first seditious act may be meant to upend the old show biz rule that anything goes as long as it doesn’t misuse or offend children or animals. Well, it’s clean on the animal front. We know we’re not in “family film” land even before the first scene, as the moaning tones of a pleasured female guide us into the film from the opening credits. Plot twists with drug dealers, sexual conniving, and other adult themes lie in wait.

Hill plays a wayward young man lured into sitting for a trio of misfit kids from a rich family — a prematurely sexualized and celebrity-mongering little girl (Landry Bender, quite a scene-stealer), an anxiety-prone son, and a mischievous adopted son from El Salvador, fond of blowing up toilets. Let the bump-in-the-night games begin. But have no fear: We know boy will get the girl — the right girl — and the kids’ issues will be resolved by film’s end. The Sitter doesn’t dare violate that Hollywood edict.

There are plenty of reasons to see this movie: (1) you might be professionally engaged to do so; (2) you may be a hopeless addict of new films viewed on the big screen; (3) you’re a fan of bad comedies, and the analysis thereof (present company guilty of the previous three); (4) you could be a Jonah Hill fan, eager to keep tabs on even his missteps; or (5) you’re catching up on your sleep. In the end, though, The Sitter may be an item best saved for the captive-audience context of an airplane viewing, if the naughty bits don’t disqualify it.


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