Review: “Neighbors” Packs Comedic Wallop But Misses Knockout Punch

 

Neighbors starts off with a bang, literally, as young parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen) are having sex at their newly purchased home. Although they’re a responsible couple who dote on their baby daughter, both of them are having huge problems with their adulthood. Mac still smokes joints during his work break and Kelly is a bit bored with her stay at home mom duties.

So when fraternity Delta Psi Beta, led by hunky, alpha male Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) move in next door, the fireworks are set off from the get go. The trailers suggest that it’s a raunchy comedy pitting suburbanites against a group of nubile youngsters, but considering it’s directed by Nicholas Stoller, the narrative evolves from its seemingly simple construct. Stoller, a writer-director who doesn’t mind throwing a bit of hard earned sentiment into his work (most notably in Get Him to the Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall), actually screws with our expectations and actually makes Teddy the film’s most sympathetic figure.

Neighbors – Universal

There’s actually a couple of surprises with the movie. Teddy may be the leader of the pack and be blessed with abs that never quit, but his imagination and foresight doesn’t extend beyond his fraternity. Upon meeting Mac and Kelly, Teddy actually welcomes them to his frat house and parties with the pair. After they break his trust, he makes their life into a living hell. Most of the comedy originates from these pranks, as Efron and company (which includes Dave Franco and Kick Ass 2‘s Christopher Mintz-Plasse) make for a more than believable group of hedonists.

Stoller didn’t pen Neighbors (Brendan O’Brien and Andrew J. Cohen are the credited scribes), and I wish his deft writing skills had a bigger role in the proceedings. The uneasy friendship between Teddy and his best buddy Pete (Franco) is developed but is never effectively realized in the narrative, and even Teddy’s own insecurities and fears are given short shrift during the movie’s final moments. Efron, so good last year as an amoral farmer’s son in At Any Price, still does solid work with Neighbors even if the final payoff for Teddy, just doesn’t, for lack of a better word, pay off.

To hear Zac Efron talk about how he related to Teddy’s brotherly love for his fellow frat brothers, click on the media bar below:

If you’re a Seth Rogen fan, you won’t be disappointed with Neighbors, as there’s enough weed and sex jokes to keep you satisfied. The real surprise is Rose Byrne, who actually is the film’s main scene stealer. Most comedies position the female lead as a nagging harridan who simply spoils the fun or, by the film’s end, begrudgingly accepts the male’s frailties. Kelly is actually the most mischievous of the bunch, as evidenced during her seduction sequence of Franco’s character. 

On a pure comedic level, Neighbors delivers the jokes. Homemade dildos, sexually suggestive hedges, and hilarious cameos (Lisa Kudrow plays a headline obsessed dean) are just a few of the joys you’ll experience with the movie. It’s definitely a fun ride, but if Stoller and and his writing crew paid a bit more attention to Teddy’s development as well as addressed some of the movie’s darker elements, Neighbors could have added a bit more bite amidst all that laughter.

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