Starring: Seth Rogen, Zach Efron, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek”)
Written by: Andrew J. Cohen (debut) and Brendan O’Brien (debut)
There’s a strange trend affecting this generation’s comedy films. Each of them seems to front-load the laughs while setting the story in motion, only to sputter around near the end, sacrificing jokes in a scrambling effort to pick up some small plot thread and see it through to the end. It’s not that I expect comedies full of cussing and boobs to be tightly-plotted pieces of clockwork, but the shaggy dog nature of a movie featuring a bunch of funny people being funny can turn sloppy in a hurry. “Neighbors,” featuring the shaggiest of the shaggy dogs Seth Rogen squaring off against pretty boy Zac Efron, doesn’t manage to avoid this formula either, but at least it’s funny enough to not matter.
As a 30-something couple with a young baby and a house they’ve sunk all their money into, Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) feel as though their social lives as they knew them are gone forever. Even when plans are made to party with friends, Mac and Kelly can’t even pack up all of the baby’s things before exhaustion takes over. More worries arise when the vacant house next door becomes home to a frat house led by alpha male Teddy (Efron) and his best friend/second in command Pete (Dave Franco.) Thinking the Delta Psi boys will be a constant source of sleepless nights, Mac and Kelly venture next door to make friends and ask that they keep the noise to a minimum. Teddy agrees, but on one condition: should the frat get too rowdy, Mac and Kelly are to call him first, not the police. The agreement is put to the test the very next night, however after numerous calls, Mac can’t reach Teddy, so he calls the police. Betrayed, Teddy starts a war with Mac and Kelly, who in turn scheme to get the frat dissolved by the university.
Story-wise, “Neighbors” starts to lose steam about a half hour in, pretty much as soon as the feuding begins, leaving the middle of the film feeling undercooked and mushy. Director Nicholas Stoller doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with the warring neighbors at first, throwing some hilarious absurdity into the mix when, after Mac takes an axe to a pipe to flood their basement, Delta Psi raises an insane amount of money selling dildos molded from their own penises, earning enough from the sale to fix the basement and buy a hot tub and outdoor speakers. That’s followed up by the Delta Psi’s weirdly menacing Robert DeNiro party, wherein every member dresses as a different Robert DeNiro film character and just stares in Mac and Kelly’s living room, muttering DeNiro catchphrases. These jokes are highbrow and funny as hell, but that tone is later dropped for more run-of-the-mill shenanigans. And you know what? It’s still funny as hell.