'Neighbors': Raunchy comedy shows a soft streak

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceMay 8, 2014 

Zac Efron is in residence at a wild fraternity house in Neighbors.

GLEN WILSON — Universal Pictures




    R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout. Universal. 1:36. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.

Neighbors is an Animal House for The Hangover era, a frat-boy comedy that pushes the rude and raunchy envelope into daring and dirty new territory.

Hilariously coarse, reasonably shrewd and clumsily sentimental, there's no reason it won't earn a billion dollars and inspire a new generation of party-hearty bros to go Greek when they go to college.

The hook here is not just the appeal to their peers of this band of brothers — drinking, smoking dope, hard-living loverboys. They're also the sorts of people Mac and Kelly used to be and wish they still were.

But Mac (Seth Rogen) has an office job that is pure drudgery. Kelly (Rose Byrne) is staying at home with their baby, Stella. They have to lie to convince themselves that the obvious hasn't come true: "Just because we have a house and a baby doesn't mean we're old people."

They strain to keep their old lives — sharing the occasional joint, spontaneous sex (in front of the baby), club hopping.

The trouble is, they can't.

And having the up-all-night kids of Delta Psi Beta move in next door just rubs their noses in it.

The kids, led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco, James' brother), feign neighborliness and high fraternity ideals. But they're hedonistic beasts, living to make their legends with a frat that claims it invented the toga party, beer pong and the like. Telling them to "keep it down" will never work.

Despite the "invite the old people in" flattery, despite Mac's taste for the magic mushrooms, booze and other substances the Deltas have in mass quantities, this means war.

The random laughs are sprinkled throughout this comedy — the shock-value profanity the parents use in front of the child, the college dean (Lisa Kudrow) who will do something about the fraternity's behavior only when they make "headlines."

I love the stuff about the older couple straining to still seem "cool" to these kids who have no regard for anybody who isn't at their frat house, partying like it's 1979. The fun is supposed to build from the elaborate plots the marrieds and the bros engage in to foil each other. Only, it doesn't.

The Judd Apatow-trained Rogen makes sure there are a dizzying array of killer one-liners, such as Mac's reaction to the first time he sees Teddy shirtless: "He's like something a gay guy designed in a laboratory."

Byrne, as she proved in Bridesmaids and Get Him to the Greek, can hang with the bad boys in terms of laying it all out there and cursing like a sailor.

But for such a short comedy, Neighbors drags. Director Nicholas Stoller creates little momentum between the schemes and counter-schemes. Peripheral characters, while funny, show up and stop the action. Some of the "I love you, man" riffs between the bros are meant to be funny because they go on forever.

The outrageous stunts and boundary-pushing gags are as riotously funny as anything in any Hangover movie. Telling this story from the perspectives of the frat brothers and the indignant nearly-adults next door broadens the appeal. Yeah, we used to be like that. In our dreams.

But between the belly laughs, Neighbors feels like a pulled punch, a mean comedy with a soft streak, a Hangover that never delivers the buzz.

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