By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Neighbors is like the fraternity parties it depicts: loud, energetic, out of control, and a lot less fun than it sounds like.
It’s an escalating-revenge comedy about the conflict between a suburban married couple with an infant daughter and the house of fraternity boys who move in next door.
Seth Rogen (who’s also one of the producers) and Rose Byrne are Mac and Kelly Radner, bringing up their first child in their first house in the ‘burbs.
Zac Efron plays Teddy Sanders, the president of Delta Psy Kappa, the college fraternity that purchases the house next door and sends the Radners’ domestic tranquility packing.
And leading the supporting cast are Lisa Kudrow as the university dean and Dave Franco as the fraternity vice-president.
The Radners, not that far removed from the stage of life that includes strenuous partying and impetuous socializing, immediately go next door to welcome their new neighbors and demonstrate their own coolness. They will not, they assure the guys next door, be the kind of old fogeys who make severe moral judgments and complain about the youthful exuberance being displayed on the property next to them.
But the weed-and-alcohol-fueled late-night parties at a high decibel level begin in earnest just about immediately, and sleepless nights ensue.
Before you can say “you gotta keep it down,” the Radners find themselves calling the cops.
That’s just the first salvo in what develops into a battle of one-upmanship, as the gloves come off, the chaos builds, hell breaks loose, and a war of sorts begins, with the Radners trying to bring down the fraternity and vice versa, with no sadistic prank or act of sabotage too mean or too cruel.
The paper-thin plot is to be expected, given the genre. But so little of the behavior on display registers as reflective of life as actually lived that the characters seem trapped in some alternate universe, one where everyone is a generic movie character instead of a three-dimensional human being.
Lowbrow slapstick humor is just one artistic-option way to go, of course, but what we routinely accept in a “Three Stooges” short or a “Tom & Jerry” cartoon doesn’t necessarily cut it in a feature narrative.
Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement, Get Him to the Greek), working from a raunchy script by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien that is far too dependent on lazy, gross-out gags, has concocted the kind of movie that will get its share of easy, intended laughs while being screened as background at a drunken frat party, appropriately enough.
But viewed under any other kind of microscope, it comes up short and shoddy.
It would appear, then, that it’s not easy making a good comedy about fraternity behavior. After all, where do you go once you’ve seen and acknowledged Animal House?
But Neighbors, not to be confused with the 1981 Aykroyd-Belushi comedy of the same name and released in the United Kingdom as Bad Neighbors, does nothing to change that perception.
So we’ll pledge 2 stars out of 4 for the frat-house-next-door comedy, Neighbors. It’s just parties and pranks. The verdict: no thanks.