The Babysitters

Do you remember the Tom Cruise movie “Risky Business?” Cruise’s character, Joel Goodsen, has a wild adventure with a call girl while his parents go out of town for a spell. “The Babysitters” feels like a story the now middle-aged Joel, who probably became a semi-successful businessman in a loveless marriage, might have written in his den while escaping his wife and kids for a spell.

Shirley (Katherine Wasterston), a lithesome high school junior, earns some extra money by babysitting, and she develops a crush on Michael (John Leguizamo), a mid-level ad man stuck in a lowered state of perpetual juvenescence {he loves trains!} living in the burbs with his more responsible wife Gail (Cynthia Nixon). One night, as Michael drives the somewhat OCD-addled Shirley home, they stop at a local diner for a bite to eat {“I don’t want to send the poor girl home hungry,” Michael explains to Gail on his cell phone, as Shirley spins around on a counter stool} and while they talk and share, Michael innocently grabs Shirley’s hand in a bonding gesture over something she says. Michael takes Shirley to a local trainyard, where he gives in to his previously imperceptible desires and nails the jailbait right there on the floor of one of the railroad cars.

When the deed is done, Michael instantly regrets it, although we’re not sure if he is repentant because he just had sex with an underage girl or because he was having problems in his marriage or because the diner didn’t serve him Sanka. Not that he is contrite enough to refrain from nailing Shirley the next time she sits for him and Gail, or the time after that. Michael drowns his guilt by overpaying for Shirley’s added services, while the girl sees this as an easy way to add to her college fund. Soon, Michael can’t help but tell Jerry (Dennis O’Hare), one of his friends, about his transgressions, who reacts first with shock before wanting to get some sweet babysitter action for himself. Already scheduled, Shirley brings her best friend Melissa (Lauren Birkell) aboard, collecting a small fee for setting up the appointment. Before too long, Shirley is an adolescent Mayflower Madam, enjoying the fruits of her labors with Michael and those of her friends with dozens of local Lotharios.

Where debuting feature director David Ross fails in his story is his inability to not only mine any new territory with his tale of suburban inveracity, but to even closely measure up to previous tales of bourgeois mendacity such as “American Beauty.” Has Ross created a cautionary tale trying to warn viewers that our world is becoming more and more a modern Sodom with every passing dayr Is Ross trying to mimic Michael Haneke, daring his audience to be disgusted by the very titillating premise which probably brought them to the movie in the first placer Not likely for Ross, who also wrote the moribund 2006 Lucky McKee film “The Woods.” When we first meet Shirley, she is not some young virginal girl yet to be corrupted, but walking around a rustic cabin, her erect nipples poking through her skimpy t-shirt soaked with sweat, letting us know she does what she does because “Paid fellatio isn’t that much more humiliating than flipping burgers,” before using that beyond-overused cinematic device of taking the audience back to where it all began, a few months earlier. But we’re not even a few minutes in to the true start of the story, representing what one can only assume is a “typical” day for her {waking up in her decent but non-ostentatious home, chipper but heavy mom hard at work in the kitchen, balding and distant father working in his basement office, hanging with her few friends at school} before Shirley’s getting it on with Michael. Without a solid foundation for the character, Shirley starts off as little more than a wannabe upper-class twit reaping the benefits of the world’s oldest profession, with her later actions {including the film’s single best moment, when Shirley, with the help of Melissa and Michael, tears her school apart late one night to cover up her breaking in to a possible rival’s locker} also lacking the proper balance to give the character any kind of sympathy.

Ms. Waterston, the daughter of the great Sam Waterston, certainly has a positive screen presence, and is likely to have a long career, as long as she shies away from middling fare such as this. Acting vets Leguizamo (who is listed as one of the film’s more than a dozen producers) and Nixon (who would recognize an underwritten female role when she sees one), however, should have known better than to get involved. Ross’s script is neither edgy nor engaging, that much had to be obvious when the screenplay was delivered. They never could have known his flaccid direction would dare viewers to completely disengage from the proceedings.

Neither sexy enough to be tantalizing nor dramatic enough to be riveting, “The Babysitters” is best left uncalled upon.

Rating: D