So. A young babysitter takes their three young charges on an ill-advised trip into the big city. What should be a simple errand turns into chaos, as the four find themselves on the run from dangerous men, bouncing from one outrageous situation to the next, desperately trying to resolve their issues and beat the parents back home. Thrilling, exciting, and downright hilarious. Now fast forward twenty-five years, strip away all that is smart, good-natured, and well written from Adventures in Babysitting, (or A Night on the Town, depending on where you live), and you end up with this Jonah Hill comedy vehicle, David Gordon Green’s The Sitter.

Hill plays Noah Griffith,  a loveable, jobless loser, still living with his Mum, and unlucky in love. You could have guessed that though, right? Forced to babysit three tweens, things take a wrong turn when he agrees, on the promise of sex, naturally, to take them to visit a drug dealer to buy some coke for his ‘girlfriend’ Marisa, the girl who routinely uses him for head, and doesn’t return the favour.

Events, of course, spiral out of control, as one of Noah’s young charges ‘acquires’ k worth of coke from the drug dealer in question, Sam Rockwell’s Karl. With Karl and his gang of bodybuilders in pursuit, Noah must raise ten grand, save Marisa, and get the kids to bed by 1am. How, you ask, can it fail to be hilarious?

The Sitter has very distinctive, dysfunctional characters. You’ve met Noah. The kids are, in turn, Landry Bender’s Blithe, a pre-teen girl looking to become the next Kim Kardashian, Kevin Hernandez’s Rodrigo, an adopted latino pyromaniac, and Max Record’s Slater, a teen boy on a cocktail of drugs to keep him from become over-stressed. It also has a variety of crazy incidents, including grand theft auto, a diamond theft, exploding toilets, the odd shootout, and a criminal determined to either kill Noah, or make him his ‘eighth best friend’.

What it doesn’t have, rather curiously for a comedy, is jokes. There’s the odd obvious set-piece, like Noah being caught in the children’s underwear section of a late night store with a little girl, but the small handful of gags that are present all, predictably maybe, revolve around bodily fluids. The writer seems to have been under the impression that the humour would come from the combination of quirky characters and whacky situations. It doesn’t.

It isn’t all bad. Whilst Hill’s deadpan delivery grows tiresome by the climax, and the usually sparkling Rockwell’s bi-polar drug dealer is only sporadically funny, the child actors are really very good. So whilst the overall plot is only vaguely entertaining, the likability of the three kids manages to give you a modicum of concern for their well-being. There are also some very touching moments, as Hill helps each child come to terms with their quirks. Both Noah and the three children are suffering parental issues, and it is the scenes that explore this that actually have something to say. There is some heart buried deep underneath the crass, and oftentimes downright offensive storyline.

The Sitter’s biggest problem is that it seems terribly confused about who it is aimed at. The presence of such young children, and the touching messages that, eventually, bubble up to the surface, along with the almost slapstick nature of the action suggest a film made for a family audience. Somewhere along the line, unfortunately, someone seems to have decided that the movie would be an easier sell if they slapped some tits in the film, and an R on the poster. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that the Hangover audience doesn’t want to see tweens in peril.

This is a real shame, as with really only some minor tweaks and a bit of common sense, this could have made for a much better kid-friendly action adventure. Admittedly, this would have made it an even more obvious rip-off of Chris Columbus’ Adventures in Babysitting, but it would also have made for a far more successful movie in my opinion.

The Sitter is not terrible, despite its best efforts. There is something there, a hidden soul diluted by desperate attempts to create an off the wall atmosphere, and raucous, bawdy comedy. Common sense has unfortunately not prevailed, and we are left with an instantly forgettable, mildly amusing late night rental. This is the kind of film that Jonah Hill really needs to try to avoid now. If I was to suggest adding an ‘h’ into the film’s title, that would be a tad unfair, but would certainly be in keeping with the comedic sensibilities on display.