Directed by: Nicholas Stoller Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: R Release Date: May 9, 2014
PLOT: New parents Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) start a war against the fraternity bros (Efron & Franco) who move in next door.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of Rogen or even Efron willing to settle.
Nicholas Stoller's Neighbors is a rager like nearly every film produced by the duo of Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, their first since last year's celebrity soiree This Is the End. It has lampshade-hat equivalent of craziness, with frat dudes and dudettes packed to the ceiling as they exhibit outrageous R-rated shenanigans that make Bluto's zit popping look like a kindergartener's gag. But alas, if only Neighbors were as funny as it is outrageous, showing that an original spin on familiar content doesn't guarantee a joke's success.
Stoller's films follow the same type of human growth chart of Judd Apatow's filmography, in which Stoller's films collectively tell the story of a schlubby guy passing through different gauntlets of maturity. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it was a man dealing with his first catastrophic (yet essential) breakup, a learning experience that is as important to sanity with others as trying to land the big gig in Get Him to the Greek, or maintaining a bond of love through tumultuous timeouts in The Five-Year Engagement. This latest installment, with a very Apatow-approved schlub, includes Rogen taking on a new on-screen role as a baseball cap-wearing patriarch, albeit to an Australian wife (played by a hilarious Rose Byrne) and their young baby Stella. The opposing force in this film is not a type of personal conflict, but an embodiment of a past way of life, dealing with the calamity in one's past before they started employment at a boring job, and put themselves into a situation where sneaking in sexual intercourse becomes an event because of a baby that is in the house. That muscular embodiment is sociopath Teddy with his perfect body, a leader of the frat cult that moves into the house next door.
As a bash, with filmmaking that follows more literally than spiritually the prose of Asher Roth, Neighbors provides its audience all the R-rated shenanigans it could desire from an event film. And as it is the project of people like Rogen & Goldberg (and writers Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O'Brien), the jokes have a freshness that dangerously flirts with fleeting relevancy. These are jokes with trajectory of hip geekery that will keep it fresh for about a year or two. One reference to dating app Grinder, on the other hand, has maybe a month-long shelf life if any at all.
In comes Neighbors, which is surely the first film in the past two generation's rear-view mirrors to feature gags about accidentally eating a condom, a slathering of Robert De Niro references (and to Meet the Fockers, arguably a De Niro character more relevant to Neighbors' main audience than Taxi Driver) among others. A statement involving which Batman these characters prefer may not be that unique, but it does bring out a hilarious over-the-top impression from Efron doing his spin on Bale's husky attempt on the Dark Knight. As this is a tale about two groups trying to outsmart each other, this craftiness does pass into the genetics of how this movie harps on fraternal shenanigans. Assuredly, weed and dick jokes are common catalysts, with another couple sprinkles of unfortunate rape jokes a la This Is The End.
This wild concept of chaos reigning in a suburban neighborhood has its edge reduced by its incomplete image of characters, an aspect that affected Get Him to the Greek in the past, and has made for slower moments in other Stoller films (on the other hand, when characters were solid like in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, they lead to a great introduction for a bare-all Jason Segel). With Neighbors, Stoller has a couple of strong partnerships. Rogen & Byrne are cute even during their more plainly conceived moments of self-conscious dorkiness, presenting a marriage worth championing for its teamwork enthusiasm (their resolution to an expected separation in the second act may be seen as cheap, but I see it as completely and unquestionably honest). Even frat bros Efron & Franco conjure a sincere image of testosterone-overdosing brotherhood, their own personal problems given real time amidst goofy frat bonding. But it's the key divide between Efron & Rogen that feels like it's missing a few more scenes to really clue in the personal nature of this dispute, and makes the film's ultimate solutions between these characters feel like the shoo-in one would trust Stoller wouldn't even settle for. A relationship that starts with uncertain bonding in their first night as title compadres, and then becomes plainly antagonistic right to the very end, leaves something to be desired, other than feeling that Efron is playing a villain from The Karate Kid, and needs a bit of a real-life lesson from Rogen.
The most indicative crack in the foundation of Neighbors however is not Efron, or Stoller, it's Rogen. He is miscast in his own production, regarding the necessary believable distance between perspective of "frat vs. family." Rogen is too recent in the generation of the "Frat Pack" lineage for a role that could have been played by any of its initial members (like Will Ferrel or Vince Vaughn), who often play characters that are still coming-of-age despite assuming domestic responsibilities like husbandry or fatherhood.
Rogen has shown himself to be, for the most part, a comedic brand that rarely can be compacted. For every Kung Fu Panda movie he voiced as a preying mantis, he's now producing an R-rated animated film called Sausage Party. Even his Green Hornet adaptation showed a perseverance to personal interest, at the cost of losing fans of the actual franchise. So it's difficult to accept a joke here when Rogen's straight man is turned into a CGI rag doll after being ejected by an airbag somehow placed on his office chair, while being shown in a very Rogen-esque existence earlier, smoking weed and gorging on shrooms. In another instance, how could a Rogen character, not even a year removed from the release date This Is the End, not recognize a shrub shaped like a man bending over? Watching Rogen & Byrne try to slang their way into the hearts of the frat bros is awkward for the opposite reason intended - these two are too young.
With this failed grounding, while this film isn't as structurally malfunctioned as previous Stoller joints (or even Goldberg & Rogen ones), it can be sluggish for a movie that barely runs over 90 minutes. Having to sit through new gross-out gags that are extended but weak, it feels closer to two hours. Stoller certainly has his hooky yet straightforward concept and loads it with jokes that are fairly unique in the scheme of R-rated outrageousness, even in the age of filmmakers just like him. But there is still a disappointing squareness to this comedy, all in despite of its raucous potential.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10