It’s hard work being a babysitter in Hollywood. Instead of settling the kids down for a night of movies and TV dinners, you’re more likely to be stalked by a sadistic killer (Halloween), have a heart attack (Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead), endure increasingly threatening phone calls (When a Stranger Calls) or find yourself trying to rescue your charge from the Goblin King (Labyrinth). In both The Sitter and Adventures in Babysitting, a reluctant sitter finds himself/herself taking care of three obnoxious children on a night from hell, as they and brats run afoul of some less-than-savory characters and are taken on a wild chase across the city.
Will the foursomes survive their respective car chases and gang fights? Will they manage to escape the mobsters and drug dealers? Will they manage to get home before the grownups do? And will there be lessons learned along the way? Get your own ride, show up before the trailers roll, and may the best sitter win.
In The Sitter, Jonah Hill plays Noah Griffith, a slacker who, having been kicked out of college, now lives with his divorced mom (Jessica Hecht) and spends his time watching TV on the couch. Sounds like is the perfect gig for him, right? Well, not exactly.… When his mother guilts him into taking a babysitting job for family friends, it may be the worst idea ever because, as he warns one of his charges early in the evening, he’s “more of a ‘Sit on the couch, eat a burrito, do what I say or I’ll kill you’ type of babysitter” than an actual, trustworthy parental stand-in. The kids don’t make it easy. Slater (Max Records) is an overly anxious thirteen-year-old with identity issues; Blithe (Landry Bender), is a nine-year-old who dreams of being a celebutante without really knowing what that means; and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) is a rebellious and explosion-happy, pint-sized thug the family adopted from Mexico.
Barely minutes after the parents are out the door, Noah receives a call from his manipulative sort-of girlfriend (Ari Graynor), who promises to finally have sex with him if he brings some cocaine to a party. Noah doesn’t think twice before packing the three obnoxious squirts into their parents’ minivan and taking off for the city. What should be a relatively simple drug-run quickly devolves into a nightmarish journey, when Rodrigo steals something from psychotic dealer Karl (Sam Rockwell), causing Noah and the three hellions to be pursued all over New York City.
When her boyfriend Mike (Bradley Whitford) cancels their big date, Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) reluctantly agrees to babysit for Sara (Maia Brewton), a precocious little girl obsessed with comic-book hero Thor; her teenage brother Brad (Keith Coogan), who is desperately in love with Chris; and Daryl (Anthony Rapp), Brad’s hormone-crazed best friend. Before the foursome can settle in for another boring evening in the burbs, Chris gets a frantic call from her best friend Brenda (Penelope Anne Miller), who has run away from home but only gotten as far as a seedy bus station in Chicago and is desperate for Chris to come rescue her. Despite Chris’ best efforts to convince the kids to stay put, they blackmail her into taking them along for the ride.
No sooner do they get on the road than they find themselves on the side of the highway with a flat tire, no spare and no money. They quickly snag the attention of a one-handed tow truck driver who offers to take them to an auto shop and buy them a new tire. But things go awry when the supposed Good Samaritan goes nuts and the four are forced to abandon both him and their car. They quickly take refuge in another car nearby, only to find that it’s occupied—by a car thief, who immediately whisks them off to a warehouse full of crooks. Their night only gets worse from there, as they find themselves running from mobsters, interrupting a gang fight and, yes, sliding down the side of a skyscraper.
The trailer for The Sitter boasts that it goes “where no babysitting movie has gone before.” In reality, it goes exactly where Adventures in Babysitting did, albeit with far more sex, drugs and violence. Neither film offers anything new in terms of plot—hapless suburban youths get stuck in the big city, endure mishap after mishap, and still manage to get home without the grownups being any the wiser. Both films force their characters into absurd and improbable situations such as Noah navigating his way through Karl’s drug lair, which is filled with massive bodybuilders who package cocaine in Fabergé egg-like containers; or Chris and company who, while fleeing from mobsters, end up on stage at a blues club where they are forced to sing their way out. Both films are essentially unoriginal fluff but manage to be somewhat entertaining nonetheless.
Elisabeth Shue does an admirable job as Chris who, for the most part, manages to remain calm despite the increasingly ridiculous and dangerous situations she finds herself in. Jonah Hill, too, does a decent job of providing an earnest center to an often crude film.
Noah and his terrible brood are slightly more fleshed out characters than Chris and her crew. In Adventures, the characters don’t really grow or learn much during their extended ordeal. Sure Chris dumps her scummy boyfriend, but she did catch him on a date with another girl. The Sitter allows for a few more moments of heart. In a surprisingly touching scene, Noah helps Slater realize that most of his anxiety issues stem from the fact that he’s gay and is terrified to admit it to anyone, least of all himself. This is a rare example of a well executed, heartfelt scene; most of the film’s other attempts feel overly sentimental or at least a little contrived.
Both these films offer a handful of laughs, plenty of action and the occasional touching moment. So I guess it comes down to personal preference, and I prefer my predictable twaddle with a bit of raunch. There are a lot of better movies out this holiday season, but if you’ve seen everything else and you’ve already gotten a sitter, get The Sitter.