Hollywood’s Renaissance of Raunch continues unabated. Drunken misbehavior, puke-spewing antics, poop jokes and copious amounts of full-frontal male nudity equate to comedy gold these days. That Neighbors fits perfectly into this nouvelle vulgaire category should come as no surprise. Collectively the writers, producers, directors and stars have been responsible for such films as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, Pineapple Express, Superbad, Knocked Up and This Is the End. That the formula is wearing a bit thin at this point should come with an equal lack of surprise. The film will find temporary fans, but it doesn’t hit the inventively tasteless high-water of This Is the End and its brethren.
Neighbors comes up with a plot that could best be termed “an excuse” and uses it as a springboard for as much rude humor as humanly possible. Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) and Rose Byrne (Insidious, X-Men: First Class) are Mac and Kelly Radner, a middle-class suburban couple happily enjoying their quiet neighborhood and their newborn daughter. That all changes one day when a fraternity full of drunken dudebros takes over the house next door.
Thinking they’ll try the “cool” approach, Mac and Kelly bop on over and introduce themselves to the frat’s president, the charismatic Teddy (former High School Musical hoofer Zac Efron). The Radners hang out, share a joint and express their passing concern that the frat house might disrupt the sleep patterns of their infant daughter. Can they maybe just ... keep it down? Teddy assures the couple that his fraternity brothers will be quiet and respectful. But when the late-night partying continues unabated, Mac resorts to calling the cops. This gets him labeled a stool pigeon and sparks a prank-based war between the two households.
That’s about it for plot. The script is more or less just a premise on which to hang an awful lot of mean-spirited behavior and a surprising number of penis jokes. (The film is, at times, breathtakingly priapic.) For a certain segment of the population—for whom boner jokes are totally snicker-worthy—Neighbors more than delivers on its promise of lewdness. The rough thing is, there are almost no likable characters in this film. Everyone comes across as an annoying asshole and acts quite stupidly. Apparently the neighborhood in which these people live has no laws, rules or building codes. And strangely the Radners are the only ones who take any notice of the all-night ragers, the fireworks shows and the piles of beer cans on the lawn. Why would they be the only ones to complain about this situation?
Neighbors is little more than a series of outlandish set pieces involving vandalism, sabotage and what could occasionally be called attempted murder. Every once in a while, the script (from first-time feature writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien) does flirt with moments of actual depth. There’s the suggestion that Mac and Kelly are starting to feel that parenthood has stolen their youth and vitality. Beefing with a bunch of frat boys—of whom they are secretly jealous—is one way to pretend they aren’t a couple of aging, out-of-touch suburbanites. Teddy, meanwhile, escalates his passive-agressive fight against the Radners as a way of avoiding the inevitable. He’s about to graduate. He’s going to be kicked out of the protective atmosphere of college only to be left at the mercy of a real world for which he’s done nothing to prepare. These are interesting issues, but they’re touched on only in the briefest of passing moments. Neighbors is far more interested in getting to the bad behavior and raunchy jokes.
The cast at least is enthusiastic about the assignment. Rogen and Byrne lend a certain lived-in realism to their characters. Efron stretches his résumé credibly as the happy-go-lucky villain of the piece. Despite past evidence (17 Again, The Lucky One, The Paperboy) there may actually be an actor in there after all. Among the supporting cast, Dave Franco stands out most as Efron’s almost levelheaded frat brother. With breakthrough performances in 21 Jump Street and Warm Bodies, Franco has proven he’s got all the good humor and gravitas of his more famous older brother but with none of the uncomfortable, “Am I being pretentious or am I just pranking you?” vibe.
It’s doubtful anybody forking over hard-earned dough for a ticket for Neighbors is expecting it to be an Oscar-worthy event. Because of that fact, it’s difficult to criticize a film whose highlights include a ridiculously graphic breast pump scene, a pediatric AIDS joke and a climactic dildo fight. If that sounds like your kind of thing, enjoy. If it doesn’t, move along.
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