“Neighbors” is just a little bit, but not enough, like movie comedies that embrace cheerful, filthy chaos and anarchy as they shock viewers into laughter with spare, but well-placed, raunchiness — as in the campfire scene in “Blazing Saddles” or the zipper scene in “There’s Something About Mary.”
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne (who gets to keep her Australian accent) star as Mac and Kelly Radner, a young couple with an adorable baby girl and a house in a nice neighborhood. They’re happy, but they struggle with their identity as parents, and their lack of youthful freedom.
Meanwhile, members of a fraternity house unexpectedly move in next door. The Radners cluelessly introduce themselves to the frat president, Teddy (Zac Efron), and vice president, Pete (Dave Franco), and ask them to keep down the noise.
The brothers know that keeping the neighbors happy is crucial, so they invite the Radners to a blowout party that includes psychedelic mushrooms and Batman impersonations. But when the Radners eventually call the cops, the trust is broken and an all-out war begins.
Director Nicholas Stoller’s first feature, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” created a deft balance of characters and laughs, but in “Neighbors,” that balance is off.
In the first half, the characters pretend to be who they think they’re supposed to be — cool, confident and courageous. Scenes involving car air bags, sex toys and breast milk are supposed to invoke screams of laughter.
But the movie’s laughs actually don’t kick in until the characters truly find themselves. The funniest moments are personal.
In a terrific scene, Byrne’s character cleverly uses her people skills to determine the pecking order of the frat house in order to bring it down from within.
A major problem is Efron. He’s well cast as a handsome frat boy, and he manages his line readings without problem, but even in the movie’s better second half, his cold, lifeless eyes don’t reveal anything inside. In moments in which Mac and Teddy are supposed to be bonding, Rogen seems to be doing the work for both of them.
Efron’s fans will be ecstatic to learn that he goes shirtless several times. It should be noted that Rogen does, too.
While “Neighbors” is certainly revealing, in more ways than one, it could have been more so.
Starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco
Written by Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Running time 1 hour, 36 minutes