‘Neighbors’ tries, doesn’t live up to its potential

A young suburban couple is faced with their worst nightmare when a raucous fraternity moves in next door.
May 11, 2014

If you’ve seen the trailer for “Neighbors,” the new comedy starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, you will note that it certainly plays up the “abs vs. flab” angle. And while the structure of the film feels loose and doughy like Rogan’s belly, the laughs contained within will offer a good workout for those muscles to reach for a more Efron-like physique.

Rogen has been certified many times over as one of the most bankable comedic actors of his generation, including writing and starring in one of the funniest films of 2013, “This Is the End.” He only stars in “Neighbors,” but the film is filled with his pizza-stained fingertips. He plays Mac Radner, who, along with his adorable wife Kelly (played by Rose Byrne) anxiously awaits the arrival of new neighbors when the house next door goes on the market. The young couple are adjusting to adulthood, having recently welcomed their child, and they are starting to navigate this next phase of life. But their dreams of suburban domesticity are shattered when it is revealed that the new tenants are a local fraternity determined to immortalize themselves in the annals of “Animal House” history.

The couple’s initial efforts to make peace with the frat boys in an attempt to portray themselves as hip and relevant are perhaps some of the film’s most amusing. The setup could not be more sound with comedic potential, especially when the supporting cast includes solid work from Efron (as the Adonis-like fraternity president Teddy), Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Dave Franco. And while “Neighbors” has more than its share of laughs throughout, there’s a structural messiness about it that keeps it steps away from the classic status to which it aspires.

Where it does exceed expectations is with Byrne. Not only is her relationship with Rogen’s character one that is thoroughly believable, but she’s not tossed to the sidelines during all the fun (like every actress in the similarly themed “Grown-Ups 2”). She’s given field time and rises to the occasion nicely. Efron, too, deserves credit for his comedic talents, which almost distract you from the fact that he is genetically superior to you in every way possible.

“Neighbors” isn’t afraid to get nasty, but I was surprised that it was not the bacchanalia I had anticipated, and it is sweet in equal measure. Too often it veers into non sequiturs in which our lead characters act nothing like we would expect them to (I’m thinking of Byrne’s make-out scene at one of the parties), or they feature bits that seem recycled from other comedies (the “bad news doctor” bit was much funnier on “Arrested Development,” despite the talents of Jason Mantzoukas).

“Neighbors” is not without its riotous moments, and it should further cement Rogen into the Cinematic Comedy Hall of Fame, but I cannot see this having the lasting appeal of “Animal House” or even “Old School.” Like so many of the students living in the fraternity house in the film, “Neighbors” tries but doesn’t work up to its potential.

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