Hit and Miss
There’s an “almost, not quite” quality to Nicholas Stoller’s Neighbors, a ribald comedy that is at times uproariously effective but at others frustratingly tame. Though it sports an intriguing premise – young married couple versus the frat boys who move in next door – there’s still an air of the familiar to the film as we can’t help but recall Animal House, Back to School and Old School among others. To be sure, stories of rebellious youth taking on the establishment are far from new – go all the way back to the Marx Brothers’ hilarious Horse Feathers if you like – but that’s not to say nothing fresh can’t be brought to the table. The screenplay by Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien does contain some inspired moments of lunacy however the movie lacks the relentless comic pace necessary for a film like this to succeed.
Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are doing what society dictates they do – they’ve gotten married, bought a house and had a child – and all seems to be going as planned. However, their lifestyle is soon disrupted when the Delta Psi Beta Fraternity moves in next door, an affront to the adult regime they’ve adopted. On the evening of their first night of residency, the first of many debauched parties are thrown. The Radners do their best to seem cool with this state of affairs by assuming a pseudo-hip attitude and attending this event, but they soon realize that their partying days are long past and all they really want is a good night’s sleep and quiet time with their daughter.
After the Radners find out that the frat needs just two more demerits to get evicted from campus, they start pulling off a series of pranks in order to get the boys next door in trouble. Some are successful, others not so much but the comedic gold comes whenever the collegians strike back. Led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), their idea of payback escalates from strewing garbage in the Radner’s yard – which results in their young daughter finding a condom they fear has been used – to engaging in obscene topiary as well as recruiting a frat mole which goes horribly wrong.
Again, these moments are effective as is a sequence involving a questionable fundraiser by the frat. However, there ends up being a bit too much lag time between the good gags and as a result the film has a fractured pace that’s all wrong for a movie of this sort, which should barely let the audience catch its breath before attacking it again. The moments between Rogen and Byrne, who’s miscast here, seem forced while two characters on the periphery - Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) – who play key roles in the end are treated as an afterthought, a waste of comic potential.
If there are any revelations here, they come from Efron. This role is a major departure for the High School Musical alum and he relishes the idea of playing this reckless ne’er-do-well who’s as afraid of life after college as he is of becoming like Mac. There’s more to this actor than just a dazzling smile and a killer six-pack and it’s a shame the relationship between Teddy and Mac weren’t developed further or for that matter the obvious homo erotic tension that exists between him and Pete. But that’s the modus operandi of Neighbors as it mirrors its characters, content to barely get by rather than realize its true potential.
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