There's a fine line between going retro and simply moving backward, and "The Sitter" is teetering right on it. Starring Jonah Hill in a return to raunchy comedy, "The Sitter" is director David Gordon Green's tribute to 1980s romps like "Adventures in Babysitting" and "After Hours." Unfortunately, it's also a revival of racial stereotypes that belong to the past.

Not that the film doesn't have moments. Hill, following his impressive dramatic turn in "Moneyball," is back in form as the slacker-misfit Noah Griffith, who takes a baby-sitting job to mollify his exasperated mother (Jessica Hecht). The kids make for a colorful bunch: Thirteen-year-old Slater (Max Records, "The Brothers Bloom") pops pills for anxiety; Blithe (Landry Bender) is an oversexed kindergartner ("Is there bottle service here?" she asks at a bat mitzvah); glowering adoptee Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) appears to have been raised by a Salvadoran drug cartel.

Speaking of drugs, Noah tries to impress his girlfriend, Marisa (Ari Graynor), by visiting violent coke dealer Karl (Sam Rockwell). Unwisely, Noah brings the kids. Rodrigo steals enough powder to pulverize Tony Montana, launching a series of misadventures involving a stolen minivan, corrupt cops and a trove of diamonds. Throughout the long night, Noah also forms an unlikely rapport with his troubled young charges.

"The Sitter" seems to have a good heart, so why all the glib racism? Rodrigo is no less a walking ethnic joke than the Asian exchange student in John Hughes' "Sixteen Candles," and there are way too many scenes of angry black people turning all smiles at Hill's jive talk. The interracial romance between Noah and Roxanne (Kylie Bunbury) feels like a weak show of enlightenment. Though occasionally funny and even charming, "The Sitter" is ultimately a throwback in more ways than one.

PLOT An irresponsible slacker agrees to baby-sit three problem children. RATING R (drug use, sexual content, violence)

CAST Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Sam Rockwell

advertisement | advertise on newsday


PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE A raunchy and passably funny romp, but the glib racism spoils the fun.