Archive | June, 2013

Rabbit Hole (2010)

24 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Rabbit Hole” is like the next “Ordinary People” of the early 21st century, and to me, that’s a good thing. This is just as emotionally involving and well-made as that 1980 Best Picture-winning family drama. And it’s odd, because this could have been as stale and overdone as most modern melodramas, but “Rabbit Hole” is smarter, more efficient, and better-acted than you might expect.

“Rabbit Hole” is a film about grief, particularly coping with the death of a little child. Already, that sounds like a made-for-TV schlocky, overdone melodrama. But “Rabbit Hole” mostly gets it right. The actors are great in making the characters seem real so that we can feel their pain and be convinced about their plight. And the writing is quite intelligent, based on a play by David Linday-Abaire, who also authors the screenplay here. Even if it seems all too real for people who have suffered a deep loss, and at times it is quite uncompromising, the emotions within the credible drama are evident and effectively done.

“Rabbit Hole” centers around Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), ordinary people doing their best to deal with everyday life after the accidental death of their four-year-old son, who was chasing a dog out in the neighborhood street and was struck by a car. Becca is attempting to move on, while Howie stays up all night watching home-movies that feature the boy. And the boy’s bedroom looks as if it’s still there waiting for the boy to come back. They’re enduring a good deal of grief as they’re practically restarting life since the incident, and a group therapy session doesn’t help much, as Becca is bitter enough to notice that these “mourners” are merely self-righteous for the sake of earning sympathy. Also, the couple’s marriage seems to be slowly but surely falling apart, and Howie turns to Gaby (Sandra Oh), who listens to him in sympathy, and he lets her because Becca won’t. Oh, and Gaby’s husband recently abandoned her.

Meanwhile, Becca finds someone to talk to—the last person one would expect for her to have conversations with: Jason (Miles Teller, very good), the teenager who drove the car that killed her son. She notices him and the emptiness in his eyes, and realizes the guilt he feels about that day. So she feels that if she makes him feel better about it, she herself will feel better about it.

Granted, this is not easy, and no one will feel 100% better about such a tragedy, but it does help to talk to someone.

There’s also a subplot involving Becca’s sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), who is unexpectedly pregnant. This leads to quiet denial from Becca who notices her sister’s irresponsibility and questions whether or not she’s able to raise or take care of a kid. And there’s also Becca and Izzy’s mother (Dianne Wiest), who herself has suffered a tragic loss—her son and Becca and Izzy’s brother.

As you can tell, every character is going through some sort of emotional conflict, and they’re finding (or trying to find) ways to cope with each situation either by themselves or through each other. They are not the same people they used to be because an experience such as becoming a parent and in this case losing a child will change a person in such a way that life could no longer be the same. It’s how they’re able to continue through life that really matters and makes them who they are now. These feelings are well-developed and lead to a lot of truly effective, sometimes heartbreakingly so, sequences that ring true and make us understand what they’re all going through.

The acting is an important asset to the success of “Rabbit Hole.” If we don’t believe what these characters endure, we don’t care, which is what makes “Rabbit Hole” all the more powerful in its acting in that we do care. Nicole Kidman delivers one of her best performances, as she delivers a highly credible portrayal of a woman enduring emotional pain and with a force that makes it all believable. Aaron Eckhart is good here too, as a man who has his own issues in dealing with his son’s death (and he’s clearly not on the same page of coping as his wife is). Of the supporting cast, Dianne Wiest delivers her best work in quite a while; Sandra Oh is appealing; Tammy Blanchard is convincingly rebellious; and Miles Teller is credibly vulnerable.

I also admire that “Rabbit Hole” isn’t necessarily about the little boy’s death—it’s about the reactions to it eight months after, and the recovery that can be developed at that point. With the exception of one (very brief) pushover, we don’t even get any flashbacks recalling the tragic incident. We just have Becca and Howie and their explorations of grief after it. That was a smart move, and the right approach to this material.

Not everything about “Rabbit Hole” works, though. For instance, I never really bought the grocery-store scene in which Becca confronts a nearby strict mother who won’t buy her kid Fruit Roll-Ups, despite his constant asking. The payoff to that scene just seemed quite forced to me. And it’s obvious to us that young, artistic Jason’s homemade comic book is supposed to symbolize the guilt he feels since that fateful day (it’s about parallel universes and what it’d be like for a character to experience a different personality within himself), but it’s not supposed to be revealing late in the film, which it is.

But everything else about “Rabbit Hole” works—the character interactions, the dealings/copings with grief, the story-framing, the acting, the writing, etc. Does it end pleasantly? Well, it depends on how you see it or what you get out of what led up to it. What I got out of it, without giving much away, was that it’s as redemptive as I would have liked to be, without being manipulative or dishonest. It worked for me.

Margot at the Wedding (2007)

22 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Noah Baumbach’s “Margot at the Wedding” is one of those “acquired-taste” films—particularly independent comedy-dramas that either enthralls you with what it presents or makes you angry if not annoyed. And while grittiness and documentary-style filmmaking takes a huge part of the films’ craft, what is mostly singled out is how unlikeable the characters can become. “Margot at the Wedding” does indeed feature characters who say and do mean, hurtful things to each other, and the film has divided critics because of this (I especially remember a 2007 “Ebert & Roeper” review with guest-critic Michael Phillips’ enthusiastic review of the film, followed by Roeper’s quite negative response). Now where do I stand on viewing the characters, and therefore the film?

Well, you saw the “Smith’s Verdict” rating above, so it’s not exactly a mystery that I personally love this film.

Noah Baumbach is the writer-director of “Margot at the Wedding” and it’s evident from his earlier film “The Squid and the Whale” how intelligently he handles the characters and situations he goes through. He doesn’t give the characters (or the actors playing them) one-note roles; they’re fully realized and have some redeemable qualities that can either be ignored or acknowledged depending on how much you’re able to accept them as real people. And since he sees them as real people, he finds it important that film audiences view them as real people; so thanks to specific direction and long, moving shots, a documentary-style of filmmaking is handy.

The characters in “Margot at the Wedding” are a family so dysfunctional that the family in “The Squid and the Whale” (divorced parents and two struggling sons) looks happier by comparison. Nicole Kidman plays the title character, Margot, a bitter woman who writes short stories, cares for her young son Claude (Zane Pais) after an ending marriage, and is, on her worst days, a neurotic, self-important bitch. It’s clear that in order to keep her own unsteady ego, she constantly hurts and insults those closest to her—even her own adolescent son, who does nothing to hurt anybody and is probably the most innocent character in the entire movie. (Watching this movie, I felt the same sympathy for this kid I did for the teenage son trying to survive a broadly-crazy family in “Arrested Development.” This kid does not deserve the type of mental scars parents’ battles can bring.)

Margot and Claude come to the Eastern shoreline family house of Margot’s sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is about to marry Malcolm (Jack Black). Already, this reunion between siblings is sensitive and it only starts to get worse when Pauline confides in Margot with a secret: she’s pregnant. So of course, Margot tells Claude who in turn tells Pauline’s daughter Ingrid (Flora Cross) and her teenage babysitter Maisy (Halley Feiffer), and Pauline has to tell Malcolm before he hears it from someone else. And of course, because Margot is in the middle of separating herself from her husband (John Turturro), she starts an affair with Dick Koosman (Ciaran Hinds), Maisy’s father. Oh, and because Margot can’t cause enough damage, she constantly states that marrying Malcolm is a mistake, thinking him to be a loser, despite everyone else, including Claude, seeing him as a nice good-guy type. And then she snaps at the rude behavior of Pauline’s next-door neighbors, which starts another conflict.

Yes, it’s clear that Margot is mostly an unlikeable, fixated, selfish woman who manipulates her family and others around her, with Pauline being the butt of manipulation for the most part. Her positive qualities are her genuine love for her son (despite a questionable decision later in the film) and at times a certain respect for her sister—if she wasn’t going through a failing marriage, she’d probably be happy for Pauline and more respectful for Malcolm (though to be fair, Malcolm does have a flaw that is revealed midway through the film).

It’s brilliantly ironic that the happiest occasion—a wedding—provides the course of problematic, emotional scarring for this dysfunctional family. It’s almost like an opposite version “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movie; drained of energy, showing the real deal, and hardly any room for compromise. Margot is a mother who is blatantly honest in her observations and hurts those around her, whether intentional or not, and for the most part it is, just so she can come off as “sophisticated.” This is the kind of thing that Baumbach has to be praised for—showing skill in leaving discomfort with realistic situations and characters who talk like natural people would talk. Sometimes, there’s wit; other times, there’s honest truth; mostly, it all sounds very natural. It’s as if Baumbach knows to draw the fine line between appalling and truthful, and at times you get laughs from the darker wit-aspects.

Kidman delivers one of the best performances of her career, showing no fear in making Margot as pathetic as she doesn’t like to believe she is and somehow finding a way to show that the character is not a one-note caricature—there are times when she does care for those around her. Jennifer Jason Leigh presents an appealing Pauline, who is a nice woman but also flawed herself in how she defends herself from Margot’s remarks. And you really buy Kidman and Leigh as sisters, as they bicker but also have genuinely-sweet moments together when there’s nothing to fight about. The supporting cast is good, especially the young actors who deliver personality and appeal. But Jack Black, usually known for broadly-comedic roles, is probably not as successful as he could be in a role like Malcolm, but he’s not terrible at all—it’s the quiet, low-key moments that he’s able to pull off, while he can’t quite handle the louder moments.

Like I said, people will either get into “Margot at the Wedding” or you’re put off by the Margot character and how good Kidman is at making her unlikeable. With an unhappy universe in which the film takes place, is it effective? For me, it is. It spoke to me and I admired it for the characterizations and craftsmanship…

I’m just glad I’m not Margot’s son.

The Hangover (2009)

22 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

(Originally reviewed early 2010)

“The Hangover” is a very satisfying type of comedy. It’s funny and well-made, but also with the feel of a mystery thriller. The plot: Four men throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas and have a crazy night, as it seems, but they can’t remember a thing and can’t figure out why there’s a tiger in their Caesar’s Palace suite bathroom, whose baby is in their closet, why one of them is missing a tooth, and most importantly where the groom is. The marketing campaign that asks these questions lets you know right away that this movie is going to be quite something. And then the movie opens: the wedding is being prepared, the bride is wondering if the groom is going to show up, she gets a call from a friend of the groom’s saying that there won’t be a wedding.

We then flash two days earlier. The groom is a clean-cut young man named Doug (Justin Bartha, the National Treasure movies). He’s getting married to a nice woman who has a pudgy, strange, bearded brother named Alan (Zach Galifianakis). So his friends—vulgar schoolteacher Phil (Bradley Cooper) and sensitive dentist Stu (Ed Helms)—throw him a bachelor party in Las Vegas, taking Alan along for the ride. They check into a Caesar’s Palace suite and have drinks on the roof of the building.

Then, the next morning, they wake up in their suite and find themselves with the important questions: Where is Doug? Why is there a tiger in the bathroom? Whose baby is in their closet? Why is Stu missing a tooth? Why did the valet bring them a police car?

The rest of the movie is about them trying to piece together the mystery and figure everything out. They can’t remember a thing that happened that night because it turns out that Alan drugged them all with roofies. Their journey to figure everything out leads them to a violent encounter with Mike Tyson, a visit to a Vegas wedding chapel, a crude police station, and a nasty run-in with a Chinese mobster.

All of this is just flat-out funny. I laughed a whole lot during this movie. And it helps that the characters feel somewhat real as they possess personality problems. Phil is a schoolteacher who likes to steal his students’ money (to fund the trip), Stu is trying to get along with his snobby girlfriend, and Alan is just plain…strange.

I mean it. This character has to be seen to be believed. Zach Galifianakis turns in a great comic performance—the kind of breakout role that made John Belushi a star in “Animal House.” He’s short, bearded, awkward, clueless, and just wants to be liked. And he delivers some great lines, such as when Stu notices a woman wearing his grandmother’s “Holocaust ring”: “I didn’t know they give out rings at the Holocaust.” And also, he’s so sincere the way he says things like, “Is this the real Caesar’s Palace? Did Caesar live here?” I especially loved his “wolf-pack” speech he gives on the roof with his new buddies.

“The Hangover” is a mystery-comedy, which I didn’t even know existed, and director Todd Phillips (“Old School” and “Road Trip”) and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore take no mercy in taking us along for the ride and laughing with it too. “The Hangover” is a hilarious movie with a terrific story and weird characters.

Once (2007)

21 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

John Carney’s “Once” is a “musical” in the most nontraditional meaning possible. For one thing, it tells its tale while grounded in reality so that the usual corniness and improbability found in “traditional” musicals are nowhere to be found. And second, the music/songs come naturally, so that occasionally characters will play a certain song all the way through, but in a reality setting. And strangely enough, all of the songs serve as part of the storyline. In that case, then, it’s one of the most intriguing musicals I’ve ever seen. Although, I don’t think I want to call “Once” a musical. Instead, I’ll just call it what it is: a damn good film.

The minimalist plot focuses on the relationship between two people in Dublin, Ireland. Those characters are an Irish street guitarist (Glen Hansard) and a Czech flower saleswoman (Marketa Irglova). She hears some of his songs and notices his true talent, and they start to spend time together. She also plays piano and accompanies him in singing and playing a piece called “Falling Slowly” in a piano shop. It’s the start of something good, but their relationship is mainly platonic, as he is trying to get over an old girlfriend who left him to move to London, and she is married but has left her husband for a better life for her child. Both connect very well through music. They play music together, he plays her a few tunes, she comes up with lyrics for one of his soundtracks, and she moves him forward to recording a song at a studio, which is what they attempt to do.

All of the songs are memorable and help to move the story along and bring insight into the characters’ lives. For example, the lyrics to “Falling Slowly” state a lot about what the characters have gone through in their lives—singing it together to one another makes it all the more intriguing. That song, by the way, is my choice for the best one in the movie (then again, I’ve always known that—I first heard it when it was performed on the televised 80th Academy Awards, where it won Best Original Song), although another song, “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” is great as well.

This relationship between these two characters is very sweet and well-done, and the actors playing them display a great deal of chemistry. (And they’re talented musicians too, which is an important quality for this craft.)

I mentioned that “Once” is as nontraditional as a musical can get. It also has a low amount of choreography, as opposed to old-school musicals that rely on a heavy amount. Instead, “Once” tells its story in a documentary-style, with tracking shots, awkward closeups, shaky handheld shots, and zooming in and out. At first, I found this distracting, but I never lost the illusion that I was there with these people. Just as I never lost the illusion that there was real heart and passion put into “Once.” It’s a genuine treasure of a movie.

Observe and Report (2009)

21 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

All right, let’s get it out of the way. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” was released the same year as “Observe and Report” and they each feature a mall cop as a leading character. Whoop-de-do.

But both movies are undeniably different from each other. While they are satirical looks at this sort of “rent-a-cop” occupation, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is a suitable family film in that it’s lighthearted, silly nonsense, while “Observe and Report” is…I mean, holy *bleep*. This movie is like the Bizarro “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” It’s dark, unusual, twisted, demented, crude, and completely *bleep*ed up. Seriously, this is a freaking deranged film. At times, it’s funny in its dementedness; other times, it’s very uncomfortable in such; and mostly, it’s unpleasant. One thing that I can’t deny, however, is that writer-director Jody Hill (of the equally-unusual “The Foot-Fist Way”) isn’t afraid to go all out with how crazily he can develop a story.

Seth Rogen stars as the “mall cop” of the story, but don’t expect a lovable loser from this character and performance. While Rogen has been funny and likable as an appealing schmoe in movies like “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express,” he’s not how people would want to see him usually. And those who do probably won’t know what to make of his Ronnie Barnhardt, Mall Cop. This guy is just an a-hole—a sociopath who has a short fuse, a loud mouth, a tendency to get himself in situations he doesn’t belong…and yes this guy is Chief of Security at Forest Ridge Mall. He’s one of the most disturbed, hateful leading men you’ll ever find in a comedy, and Rogen gets lost into the role, to his credit. Ronnie lives with his alcoholic mother (Celia Weston), works with four other mall cops, including Dennis (Michael Pena) and the Yuen twins (John and Matt Yuan), and constantly keeps an eye on a cosmetics girl he has a crush on, Brandi (Anna Faris), even though Nell (Collette Wolfe), another female worker at the mall (though more good-natured than Brandi is), clearly has an interest in him. When a flasher invades the mall parking lot and some of the indoor stores get robbed as well, Ronnie takes it upon himself to one-up the police, particularly crude Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), and “crack the cases” himself.

How do you properly describe the tone of “Observe and Report?” Well, at least it’s consistently dark, and, since it mostly centers around a detestable mall employee, a connection could further be made with “Bad Santa” rather than “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” Both “Bad Santa” and this movie have a darkly-comedic tone that comes with the deeds/actions of a unbelievably socially inept main character and a sense of biting satire. In this case, there are satirical elements to be found, mostly towards Ronnie’s profession (malls, mall-cop, gun use); and there’s also some to be found from the actions of supposed professional police detective Harrison, who at one point can’t take Ronnie’s behavior anymore, calling him “retard” even. Mainly it’s all a series of lowbrow, less sophisticated comedic setups and gags—some of which are funny, others are uncomfortable to watch, and others are somewhat unnecessary (an example of this is an exchange of multiple “f-you’s” from loud to whisper to simply mouthing the words—is that supposed to be funny?). There are so many gags that are very much “out there,” you’ll be wondering if what you’re seeing is really happening or a sick fantasy in deranged Ronnie’s mind.

I don’t think I properly got the point more across as to how much of a creep Ronnie is. It’s hard to sympathize with him, even when Harrison tricks him and leads him to a dangerous part of town where drug dealers attack (led by Hill’s former leading man, Danny McBride). What supplies some of the film’s humor is the way that Ronnie sees himself as the hero of this story, while most of us would think otherwise.

I don’t see the point in some of the side characters. I found Michael Pena to be wasted in the role of Ronnie’s second-in-command, and a twist involving his character didn’t make me laugh or interest me in the slightest. The main joke involving the Yuen twins is that they want to use guns…fine. But then there’s Ronnie’s mother, who is completely incompetent at giving inspirational talks to her son because she’s drunk half the time; Nell, who serves to be the ultimate love-interest once Ronnie realizes that maybe Brandi isn’t the woman for him; and speaking of which, Brandi does go on a dinner date with Ronnie, and it leads to…I’m not going to lie, a pretty hilarious (though so-wrong) sexual encounter. I will always think of Anna Faris as an airhead ever since the “Scary Movie” films, but…damn she’s brave.

“Observe and Report” is about as dark a “dark comedy” can get, and as unusual as such can get. I didn’t laugh much, but when I did, I laughed my ass off. The climax, in particular, is probably the weirdest thing in the movie, but I laughed and laughed and laughed! Is this crazy film worth recommending for those few laughs? Well…not necessarily. But I do have some sort of respect towards both Hill and Rogen for making something as dark and nasty without holding back.

Flipped (2010)

20 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There are moments in life we don’t think about very often, and when we do, we like to think how things might have changed if we made different decisions in life. Take childhood, for example. Or rather, the first time we realized we were in love. Take this, for instance—what if you realized too late that you shared the same feelings toward a certain peer that the peer felt for you for the longest time…only to realize that by this time, the peer has lost interest? The timing is off; misunderstandings occurred; and you realize you were probably too blind or dumb to see what was there all along? Before it became a cliché in today’s pop music, it was the kind of thing that Afterschool Specials would have loved to present. It’d be an accomplishment to make an effective movie about such an issue without making it seem like a generic kids’-movie. And an accomplishment is just what Rob Reiner’s “Flipped” is.

“Flipped” involves a crush between two 7th-grade children in the early 1960s. Now I have to admit that at first, I wasn’t sure why this story takes place decades ago, and I thought Reiner wanted to recapture the “Stand by Me” nostalgia-feel. But then I realized something—a majority of junior-high kids in today’s modern age are overexposed with sexual imagery, thanks to the Internet and sheer curiosity aroused by other aspects, such as porn magazines and R-rated movies (particularly teen slasher films and raunchy comedies that feature nudity). I’m not saying that every kid does this or thinks this way about the opposite sex at this age; I’m just saying times have certainly changed.

But anyway, you can’t deny that the feelings that the characters in “Flipped” experience are genuine and familiar to anyone who has endured a childhood crush, especially when the feeling wasn’t exactly mutual. Maybe the “innocence-factor” is a bit forced, but as a story of young love, it’s acceptable in that sense.

The two kids in question are Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) and Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll). When Bryce was 7, he and his family moved to a new house, across the street from Juli’s family. Juli is immediately attracted to Bryce (mostly because of his eyes), but Bryce is desperate to avoid her. (“All I wanted was for Juli Baker to leave me alone,” Bryce states in a voiceover narration.) Juli hardly ever stops chasing Bryce and shadows him all through grade school until junior high. But then at this point, midway through the 7th grade, something strange happens. Bryce is starting to have feelings for Juli, while Juli isn’t so sure about him anymore.

“Flipped” doesn’t cheat by focusing for the most part on one of the two—instead, it has a really clever storytelling gimmick. It plays one situation from the viewpoint of Bryce; and then the scene “flips” so that we can see the same situation from Juli’s point of view. It’s an effective, well-done method to get us to sympathize with both sides. Even when it seems like there’s an unforgivable moment brought upon by one of them, the “flip” manages to tell it from that person’s perspective and make us understand why this happened.

A funny thing about this “family film” is that it’s probably more geared towards older viewers than the younger. Older viewers will recognize the feelings that these children are going through in this movie, particularly the change of a young person’s feelings toward a member of the opposite sex. Whether it’s coming to love them or hate them, it’s a confusing, complicated change in a person’s life. I say it’s more geared towards older viewers because of that nostalgia-perspective angle that “Flipped” delivers.

The acting is spot-on—Callan McAuliffe and Madeline Carroll are two very convincing child actors who capture the immaturity and vulnerability of these characters. The supporting cast, mostly composed of familiar faces, is not entirely memorable, with a couple exceptions—one being John Mahoney as Bryce’s insightful grandfather who notices Juli’s spirit, and the other being Anthony Edwards as Bryce’s father who is a complete and total jerk (this is a character I would rather forget). Other names include Aidan Quinn and Penelope Ann Miller as Juli’s parents, and Rebecca De Mornay as Bryce’s mother—they’re fine, but nothing special.

Yes, I did mention that “Flipped” was directed by Rob Reiner, whose films have never reached that level of worthy filmmaking since “North” almost twenty years ago (I’ll get back to you on “The American President,” though). He needed something that made people remember that this guy once made some impressive, memorable, terrific films such as “Spinal Tap,” “The Princess Bride,” and two particular films that “Flipped” echoes, “The Sure Thing” and “Stand by Me.” “Flipped” is Reiner’s best film in years. And unfortunately, nobody ever saw it, thanks to very poor marketing and a pushed-around release date. More people should give it a watch on DVD; it’s touching, it’s effective, and it’s a satisfying romantic comedy.

The Sitter (2011)

20 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

How can I properly describe how bad a comedy “The Sitter” is without saying this first—director David Gordon Green and comic actor Jonah Hill deserve a lot better than this. Actually, I can’t truly blame Hill as he’s doing what he can with a lazily written leading character, and I can’t blame Green for venturing into mainstream comedy after such great indie-small productions as “George Washington” and “Undertow,” and I loved his first mainstream-comedy attempt, “Pineapple Express.” But the problem is there’s nothing to back either of them up, and I can blame Green for at least half of the reasons “The Sitter” fails. It’s not as horrid as his previous comedy “Your Highness,” but that’s very, very faint praise indeed.

I hated this movie as much as any other terrible, unfocused, unintelligent R-rated raunchy comedy that tries so hard to be crude and vulgar for any kind of laugh and mostly falls down dead. (And yes, “Your Highness” falls into that category as well.) Listen—everyone, even the younger characters, are spewing the worst profanities because they love hearing them! Look—there’s a visual that is definitely not pleasant to look at (depending who you are)! Check it out—whatever amusing bit you can find in such an inept piece of garbage is already in the 2-minute redband trailer online! And no I am not going to say this shamelessly rips off “Adventures in Babysitting” and made it R-rated, because I wonder if the writers had even seen that movie. I say that because whether you like “Adventures in Babysitting” or not, it was hard to deny the fun and lightheartedness that was much like a “Ferris Bueller” cousin of a comedy—and “The Sitter” is joyless, tasteless, and worst of all, “laughless.”

Jonah Hill stars as Noah, an ordinary, 20something nice guy with hardly a sense of ambition to him. He’s not confident, he lets his “girlfriend,” Marisa (Ari Graynor), push him around, he lives with his mother, he vegetates in front of the TV, he doesn’t have a job, and blah blah blah he’ll wind up a changed man by the end of the movie, because that’s usually how this works. To make a little money while his mother isn’t able to babysit for a neighbor, he agrees to take the babysitting task himself, taking charge of three kids: neurotic 13-year-old Slater (Max Records), the little girl with too much fashion/makeup on the mind and on the face, Blithe (Landry Bender), and the adopted Hispanic pyromaniac Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) who has a love for fireworks and a tendency to cause mayhem wherever he can. The job isn’t much, as Noah and the kids don’t get off to a good start, and then Marisa calls Noah, asking him to come to the city and pick up some cocaine from her drug-dealer friend, Karl (Sam Rockwell). In exchange, she’ll have sex with him. So being the irresponsible “nice guy” that he is, he brings along his three charges, and wouldn’t you know it—they run into all sorts of misadventures, all of predictable and unfunny.

Actually, I take it back—some of it is not predictable, necessarily. But a lot of it is so weird and deranged and uneven that you wouldn’t care if it was actually predictable, as long as it was funny. And it’s not. It’s just not. OK, I get it already—the Hispanic kid likes to explode toilets with cherry-bombs; why is this funny? Why is it repeated? Oh right, so he can use this need to save the day. Then there’s the Rockwell character (and to be fair, it looks like Rockwell is really trying here) who has an odd hideout with a bunch of bare-chested men skating and dancing to “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”—OK, it’s weird, I’ll grant it that, but it doesn’t pay off. And there are a lot of pedophile jokes for uncomfortable misunderstandings an uneasy conversation about whether or not Slater is actually gay. And then when “The Sitter” stops for drama, it’s the cheesiest load of trite. We’ve seen this all before—first the kids hate Noah, then they realize that Wait a minute! They actually like this guy! This is a PG movie (PG-13 at best) with an R-rated mentality—insipid.

Where’s a blues bar when you need these kids to fall into such and just have a good time?

There’s one laugh I got from this movie and it occurred during the end-credits, if you can believe it. As the credits roll, we’re given information about what happened to these characters after all this madness—I have to admit, I laughed at the fate of Karl’s henchman.

David Gordon Green has made many good movies before, but 2011 was not a good year for him. His two films released that year—“Your Highness” and “The Sitter”—are deplorable messes. He has shown with “Pineapple Express” that he is capable of directing a mainstream comedy, but all I can say is this—Please, man! You made “George Washington,” “All the Real Girls,” “Undertow,” and “Snow Angels!” I know you wanted a mainstream crowd to see your work! Now that you’ve made “Pineapple Express” and everyone knows your name, give them something else to respect you for!