Just last summer, Seth Rogen was smoking a joint with Jay Baruchel before having to contend with the apparent end of the world in ‘This Is The End’. In ‘Neighbors’, he is ‘Grumpy Old Man’. Well, relative to Zac Efron. I feel Rogen’s pain; we’re in the same age range but I can’t keep up with these young folks. Nor do I really want to.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne who gets to use her own Australian accent for once) are new parents who miss their former hard-partying ways that are now an afterthought due to the presence of their baby girl, Stella. She is bored at home, and he gets stoned at work. In a hilarious scene, Mac and Kelly are pumped for a night on the town to prove they still have it; the process of getting ready exhausts them and they pass out. On the bright side, they live in a good neighborhood and are excited about meeting whoever might move in next door.
To their shock (but not ours thanks to the studio’s aggressive marketing), it turns out to be the Delta Si fraternity from the local college. They want to keep things under control, but they are also desirous of returning, if momentarily, to their former lifestyle. So, they spend one night partying with frat prez Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron – yes ladies, he is shirtless throughout most of the film; oh, those chiseled abs), and other frat members. Teddy takes the notion of brotherhood far too seriously; he knows he is a good looking dude and uses that to his advantage – he could turn on the charm and sweet talk his way out of any sticky situation. He is the sort of person you want to feel contempt for. But, then you find yourself defending him and telling people “Once you get to know him…he’s not so bad.”
The night ends with Teddy making Mac promise to call him before the police should things get too loud or out of hand. But, when that happens the following night, and no one next door is responsive, Mac and Kelly do call the police. A bond has been broken and the bromance is about to go terribly wrong. Then, the war breaks out. Soon enough, Teddy and his frat boys start pulling pranks on the couple. Mac and Kelly retaliate, thus escalating the tension between the neighbors – back and forth it goes.
Some of the hijinks are absurd: the entire frat dresses up as various Robert De Niro characters and ridicules the Radners (“Hey, you lookin’ at me?”), or the frat stealing air bags from the Radners’ car. But, when Teddy gets really sneaky, the Radners go even lower – Kelly helms a multipart mission to break apart the Delta Psi from the inside. This involves setting the stage for Teddy’s best friend Pete (Dave Franco) to hook up with Teddy’s girlfriend. This is the movie’s best scene but there is also something I disliked about it. I loved that this scene gave Rose Byrne the opportunity to break from the tightly would characters she used to play, let loose, and just run with this inspired bit of lunacy. It made me wish that a big, broad comedy would be made just for her. I also applaud the writers for not making her the stereotypically nagging wife, and for making her fluent in cursing. As for what doesn’t work with this scene, well, Teddy’s girlfriend character disappears from the movie entirely at this point and was just used a plot device. Aside from Rose Byrne, none of the female characters are even the least bit developed.
But, maybe I shouldn’t bring logic into a movie such as this. If you give the plot a moment’s thought, you may ask yourself why none of the other neighbors are calling the cops on the frat boys about their blaring music and fireworks. These events rival the central party in ‘Project X’. How are they not on the nightly news? And a fight scene between Mac and Teddy involving plaster casts previously modeled on the frat members’ junk is just plain gross. There is also an ill-advised joke about baby HIV, and a breastfeeding gag that will have some audience members cringing. But, God help me, I laughed.
Zac Efron is good here. In my review of ‘That Awkward Moment, I said he has potential but is struggling to find the right vehicle to propel him from ‘High School Musical’ teen into a grown-up movie star. With ‘Neighbors’, he continues to distance himself from that persona and I just admired how he was able to make fun of his image. He is also able to find the darker side of his character; the balance between strange intensity and tenacious juvenility is great. Throughout the film, Zac Efron’s body is so perfect, it’s a sight gag, and Seth Rogen’s body is so Seth Rogen-y, it’s a sight gag. And Rogen, too, continues to show maturity (as he did in ‘Take This Waltz’, ‘50/50’, and yes, even ‘The Guilt Trip’), in spite of all the penis jokes.
‘Neighbors’ knows exactly what it is: a tasteless, raunchy, hard-R-rated comedy. Maybe even a little more. In between these outrageous pranks, there is a nugget of truth. You reach a point where you’re ready for responsibility, but you don’t want to be lame and boring. I liked this aspect of the picture more than I did the revenge-fueled mayhem.
Still, I’d say the laugh ratio is about 50%, but that’s pretty good. There is a lot of stoopid stuff here, but some of that stoopid stuff made me laugh uproariously, which means ‘Neighbors’ is good enough to earn a recommendation. QED.