In a particularly uncomfortable scene is an otherwise forgettable Christmas holiday comedy, Deck the Halls, two middle-aged neighbors and rivals, Danny De Vito and Matthew Broderick, whoop it up like horn-dogs when, during a holiday pageant, a group of scantily clad girls saunter out onstage and bump and grind to the music. De Vito whistles and makes leering comments to Broderick, zeroing in on one particularly fetching cavorting nymphet. Only too late does De Vito realize that the sexy teen is, in fact, his own daughter. De Vito and Broderick refuse to lock eyes and the matter is dropped. In the soon to be released War Inc., implied incest is also on display when Hilary Duff slinks over to John Cusack and throws herself on the table in front of him, awaiting ravishment. Cusack reacts by throwing up, his subconscious telling him that Duff is his long-lost daughter.
Don't get me wrong. Pedophilia can be a scintillating subject of film fun from satires (Lolita), searing Southern melodramas (take your pick from Tennessee Williams), masterpieces (M), or to the unclassifiable (Happiness). The problem comes when filmmakers light the flame and have no idea where to carry it or how to extinguish it. Such is the case with David Ross's confused The Babysitters. Article continues below
Ross begins his film like a distaff remake of Risky Business. Shirley (Katherine Waterston
) is a quiet, serious high school senior working as a babysitter to save money for college. One of her regulars is the Beltran family -- Michael (John Leguizamo
) and Gail (Cynthia Nixon
). Shirley and Michael have the hots for each other (you can tell because they keep looking shyly away from each other). Driving Shirley home one night, Michael and Shirley share a sloppy kiss and Michael gives her a big tip. Soon, the two engage in a little forbidden love. And being truthful, Michael gives Shirley more money. Shirley sees an opening and quickly turns into a high-school whoremonger, hooking up herself and her girlfriends into a babysitting call girl racket, the unhappy, beaten-down middle age men of the neighborhood, more than willing to dish out the bucks to sleep with their high school daughters' friends.
Ross begins the film at the height of the depravity, as scantily clad vixens pair up with all the hangdog daddies in a vacation house, the scene shot like drug-addled De Palma. There is a flashback to Shirley in high school, and the film takes on the undertone of Heathers, particularly when the prostitution business kicks in and Shirley has to deal with advertising and distributing business cards. Eventually she has to rein in a girl who attempts to branch off and start her own rival hustling home business venture. This aspect of The Babysitters holds steely promise, but is constantly dragged down when Ross veers from the satirical portions and ladles on the melodrama of middle-class unhappiness -- Michael returning to his youth vicariously by visiting an old train station, his failures as an ad man, and the insecurities of all the male characters in general. Most egregious is that Ross is asking the audience to sympathize with these degenerates and none of the characters (middle-aged men, teen girls) ever question the morality of what they are doing (can this be a disguised Iraq War critique?). The only character in the film that for a moment balks is the one teen girl in the high school that's considered stupid.
Katherine Waterson is the sole reason the film should not be consigned to the dustbin. Waterston plays Shirley as a more mature high school student than her peers, and she moves with an ease and self-assurance that makes one believe that she can pull off this business venture of hers. Though Ross's business venture comes to her much too quickly and unconvincingly, you still go with it because of Waterston and her strong, truthful gaze. Unfortunately, Waterston wastes it on the wrong movie.