Monday, March 19, 2012

DVD/Blu-ray Reviews: "The Sitter," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "Carnage," "The Muppets," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and "Creature"


The Sitter (2011)
82 min., rated R.
Grade: C +
Director David Gordon Green must have the most crooked career path as a director, successfully starting out in the indie platform and then trying his hand at more commercial comedies, like 2008's overrated "Pineapple Express" and 2011's woefully unfunny "Your Highness." Now, onto his seventh film, the decidedly R-rated and crass "The Sitter" takes a big bite from Chris Columbus' charming out-all-night gem "Adventures in Babysitting" in 1987. That is, if that PG-13 comedy threw in F-bombs and an opening sex scene.

Before he slimmed down and became svelte for his post-"Superbad" career, Jonah Hill stars as Noah Griffin, who's introduced as a generous loser. He gives amazing oral sex to his sort-of-but-not-really girlfriend, Marisa (Ari Graynor), without any reciprocation, but he's unemployed and sits at home, too lazy to even answer the phone. But when his single mother has to cancel on a date to babysit, Noah takes the initiative and does his mom a favor. Noah regrets his decision when he gets stuck taking care of his three obnoxious, misfit charges at the Pedulla household. There's Slater (Max Records), who's tightly wound and hooked on prescription meds; 8-year-old Blithe (Landry Bender), who's obsessed with makeup, fashion, and being a party-hardy celebrity (Noah calling her JonBenét Ramsey); and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), an El Salvador adoptee who's too busy making cherry bombs in his basement bedroom. When Marisa calls Noah from a party, inviting him to have sex but requesting coke (not soda), he jumps at the opportunity, stealing the Pedullas' mini-van with the kids in tow. Naturally, the night spins out of control, dragging the kids into a drug den, a bar mitzvah, a jewlery store robbery, and high-speed car chases, while Noah dishes out wisdom to each of his charges who become a little wiser by morning.

For a comedy that meshes rowdy kids, violent drug dealers, gangs, and oral sex, "The Sitter" doesn't lack dubious taste, but upticks a bit as it goes along. It may not be fresh or very inspired, but still has some laughs and a sweetness to it that doesn't feel disingenuous because the characters are handled with respect in regard to their personal issues/insecurities. 

Screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka have more nerve than most studio comedies for their first produced script. In recent years, mainstream comedies have a morally repellent protagonist front and center, what with "Bad Santa," "Bad Teacher," and the most recent "Young Adult." Some have an arc and others remain the same. Hill's Noah is more deserving of an arc because he's not that bad of a person. Twenty-four years ago, Chris Parker's (Elisabeth Shue) motivations for taking the kids for a night on the town were selfless compared to Noah's. However, his heart is in the right place even when he's being a smartass, and who better to play him than Hill, a funny and endearing comic presence. 
Of the three kids, Records surprisingly turns in a shaded performance as Slater, a closeted-gay teenager coming to terms with being more comfortable in his own skin. Bender has comic timing as the too-precocious Blithe, too, but Hernandez's character is pretty stereotypical and one-note. Graynor is her dippy self, achieving the go-for-broke energy of her hopelessly lost Caroline in "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," itself a nod to "Adventures in Babysitting." Her Marisa is selfish and hateful, only calling Noah when she wants cunilingus or blow, but later shows a conscience and comes to realize the way she treats Noah is wrong. Much better is Kylie Bunbury ("Prom"), who's sweet and smart as one of Noah's former classmates. Finally, Sam Rockwell, as demented coke dealer Karl who ranks his friends, is a hoot and much funnier than his last comic turn in 2009's "Gentlemen Broncos."

Green employs brisk pacing, stringing along all the comic set-pieces. Not all of the jokes work, including Noah being mistaken for a pedophile waiting for Blithe in the little girl's underwear section of a department store. And Noah, his dad, and the news make a deal of an impending geometric storm, but there's never a payoff for it, so why include it? "The Sitter" is a hit-and-miss endeavor with a heart at its core. Maybe in the future, Green can find more ways than drugs and violence to tickle our funny bone.




Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Grade:  C +



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