Neighbors (**1/2): The era of low expections

neighbors-movie-2014-poster

Neighbors – 2014

Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz
Written by Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien

In the past year, I made a promise to myself to stop watching movies that were obviously going to be crap. Many, including my wife would say this would include any movie starring Seth Rogen. Really, though, only half of his movies would qualify as crap. He’s on a pretty bad streak though. Only one of his last 5 films 50/50, rates over 70 on Metacritic. Neighbors was one film I could not ascertain how much of a crapfest to expect. It made a butt-load of money and I had not heard anything too heinous about it. Many of the younger couples I know of seemed real excited about it. Suffice to say, there are reasons why you’ll never see a review of Sex Tape, but I decided to give Neighbors a shot.

The film starts out with Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Byrne) trying to have a spontaneous moment together that keeps getting interrupted by their innocent toddler. While parts of this scene is funny, the overall effect is lacking in real nuance. The next day, they notice that there are people looking at the house next door. It looks like a younger gay couple with a child roughly their own kid’s age. The Radners seem quite pleased with their prospective new neighbors. Needless to say, that is not who they see unloading the moving truck on moving day.

In a move that we can only see on film, an old fraternity, Delta PSI, is moving in next door on what is basically a quiet residential street. The Radners try to get to know their new neighbors, and they even party with them, while the baby sleeps alone in the house next door. Don’t worry, they have a monitor, even if they are high as kites. Mac and fraternity president Teddy Sanders (Efron) “cross the streams” and decide that they are going to be good neighbors. When the Radners make one more lame plea to keep the noise down, which Teddy and his vp (Franco) relegate that request to “giving it the old college try.” Meanwhile, Teddy tells Mac to come to him before he goes to the cops. I call this Teddy 1, Mac 0.

The next night, the noise happens again, and instead of going over to the neighbor (like they did the night before) the Radners make a few calls, bitch to each other, then call the cops. At this affront, the war begins and all bets are off.

One has to have a complete willingness to suspend disbelief when viewing the back and forth which follows. Some of the gags are funny, some are illegal and some defy the laws of physics.There seems to be no real animosity between the parties which is confirmed in the ending.

My wife did not last beyond the Radner’s getting doing drugs and alcohol with the neighbors. I figured I had to push through. The result is not exactly rewarding, but more an observation that this movie, like many comedies is a series of gags only loosely held together just as a means to show you some cute co-eds, some gross humor, a few name actors and more gross stuff passing off as humor. That it could have been worse is not exactly a selling point.

Franco is actually pretty good, and I remain a fan of Barinholtz, even if he’s done better work than here. There is no real evidence of chemistry between Byrne and Rogen, but oh well. It’s not like they’re detestable. I am not sure what this movie does for Efron.

Adam Sandler helped lower the bar for comedy when it did not seem it could get any lower. Rogen rode in on the Judd Apatow wave, and he’s over the Sandler bar, but riding well below his mentor. He know’s as much as P.T. Barnum, it would seem.  Even so, nothing he’s created past Superbad will be remembered in 20 years.

(**1/2 out of *****)

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