With Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lisa Kudrow. Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Written by Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O’Brien. Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout. 96 minutes.
In reviewing NEIGHBORS, it’s important to point out that the role of the film critic is not to validate box office success or the opinion of the reader. If you disagree with the opinion of the critic but get enough information to decide whether the film is right for you, the review works. If the review praises a movie that flops, or slams a movie that’s a hit, that does not make the review “wrong” or the critic “unprofessional.” It means his or her taste doesn’t follow the herd on that particular film.
So, let’s note that “Neighbors” is probably going to be a huge hit on the order of “The Hangover” and “The Heat” and, like those films, it is a moronic comedy pitched to the lowest possible denominator. No thought was given to anything beyond the initial premise. After that it’s all sex, drugs, and people acting like idiots.
The premise is a variation of an oft-told story: Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne) have put all their money into a lovely home in a suburban neighborhood which they are enjoying with their new baby. Then, the vacant house next door is acquired by a college fraternity whose leader, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), wants to make his mark by hosting one of the greatest parties in the frat’s history.
If you can see what the obvious conflict is going to be you can also see how improbable it is, but the story is only getting underway. Mac and Kelly are concerned about noise and partying until all hours and so they go over to welcome the college kids, trying to show they’re “cool” and therefore it would be nice if the frat respected the neighborhood. Why they even drink and get high with them. The one thing Teddy asks is that if there’s a problem, they deal with it as neighbors and don’t involve the police.
You can see what’s coming a mile off, from the police telling the frat just who made the complaining call to the dean of the school (Lisa Kudrow) being somewhat blasé about the problem, to the tit-for-tat fighting that goes on between the frat and the Radners. What you have to pretend not to see is that no one else in the neighborhood has a problem with them, even when they have an outdoor party where they sell life casts of the member’s members.
If you find this sort of thing funny–and apparently there are many who do–then you’ll no doubt have a good time. There are people who laugh at someone slipping on a banana peel, too. That doesn’t mean that’s brilliant comedy either. Efron and Rogen give their all to playing the adversaries, and one wishes they had better material to work with instead of being a poor imitation of the classic frat comedy “Animal House.” There’s some subtext about Rogen’s character being jealous of the frat boys who have the “freedom” he now lacks as a supposedly responsible homeowner and father, but it doesn’t go very far.
Instead the message of “Neighbors” seems to be to get stoned, get drunk, get laid, and try not to worry about it until you’re about to graduate, because life then becomes miserable. Apparently after that the only fun you get to have is watching movies telling you what you’re missing.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.