By Bob Garver
“Neighbors” is making a bid to become the big R-rated comedy for the summer season. It will probably succeed. It’s opening on a good weekend, Seth Rogen is pretty much the current king of this genre and the frat-boy antics of the Zac Efron character are sure to appeal to the film’s target audience. Whether or not the film is actually funny is almost incidental at this point, and it is reasonably funny, so it’s going to do very well.
Rogen and Rose Byrne star as Mac and Kelly Radner, a married couple with a newborn baby and a newly-purchased house. They’re settling comfortably into adult life (though they’re yearning just a bit for their carefree early days) when the house next door is bought by a fraternity. They try to get in good with the frat’s leader Teddy (Efron) in hopes that he’ll keep the inevitable loud partying to a minimum. He invites them to a party, which isn’t exactly the same thing, but it seems like a step in the right direction and the grown-ups have fun. But the polite requests to keep the noise down fall on deaf ears, and after a call to the police that is unsatisfactory to both sides, hard feelings are born between between the parents and the brothers.
The rest of the film mostly follows Mac and Kelly as they try to get rid of the frat. The police are no help (Hannibal Buress has a pretty funny cameo here), nor is the antagonistic dean of the college (Lisa Kudrow has a pretty unfunny cameo here). Eventually they resort to some really dirty tricks like causing dissention among the members and straight-up vandalism. The frat boys pull some pranks in retaliation, but they achieve victory enough just by being their vulgar selves.
There are some serious moments late in the film that feel forced. Mac and Kelly get in an over-rehearsed fight over who’s supposed to be more mature and Teddy gets into a fight with his best friend Pete (Dave Franco) about the former’s short sight on his future and the latter stealing his girlfriend. My guess is that somebody pointed out that the characters were underdeveloped and these scenes were wedged into the script in compliance. Usually I’d be in favor of fleshing out the characters, but these awkward scenes disrupt the film’s comedic rhythm.
The humor is about what you’d expect from a Seth Rogen movie. Almost everything is crude, usually involving sex and anatomy (surprisingly skewing toward anatomy in this one). And of course there are enough pot jokes to fill the state of Colorado. There’s a fun multi-stage fight scene late in the movie that seems destined to at least be nominated for Best Fight at the MTV Movie Awards. But I could have done without the grating best friend character played by Ike Barinholtz. He never comes off as anything other than dumb for the sake of dumb. Some will call him a scene-stealer, I call him an unwelcome distraction.
I do like the idea of a comedy where Seth Rogen plays the mature one to an immature up-and-comer. He does have a little growing up to do in this movie, but this isn’t yet another romp where he starts out as a loser with no ambition and we follow him as he learns responsibility from scratch. Zac Efron isn’t without his charms either, though the character he plays is pretty charmless. There’s some good chemistry in the early scenes where the two bond, and they make good foils for each other later. Rogen and Byrne make a pretty good team too as the young married couple. It’s just too bad that there isn’t a lot of originality to the film’s story and humor. I can’t say that “Neighbors” had me consistently laughing, but I’ll admit that I did smile quite a bit.
Two Stars out of Five.
“Neighbors” is rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout. Its running time is 96 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.