In Dr. Frankenstein fashion, Neighbors attempts to graft large portions of Parenthood (the original, 1989 movie version) onto similarly large portions of National Lampoon’s Animal House, the 1978 hit film that really popularized the raunch comedy genre.
Or to be more specific, the latter-day comedy tries to re-create the insights and poignancy that made the former such a modern-day classic while also trying to re-create the outright wrongness and political incorrectness of the latter — in a fearless, over-the-top manner that may remind some of the better parts of the even-more-uneven Hangover movie trilogy.
It’s a very risky move, though it is supposed to make the comedy more appealing to a wider audience. To be honest, the film is not always successful at it, particularly when it comes to the more touchy-feely moments. It’s as if even the filmmakers themselves weren’t convinced as to the merits of being a parent, and of family life, and make only a so-so case for those things.
But when the film does work, which it does with the more comic aspects, it’s uproariously funny. The filmmakers really get to the good stuff when they take the story in a completely different, surprisingly smart direction: the revenge comedy.
The movie also gets a considerable boost from its cast. While its supposed top draws are mid-level actors Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, the film gets amusing and semi-revelatory performances from their co-stars, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco and Ike Barinholtz.
Rogen and Byrne play Mac and Kelly Radner, thirty something parents of a newborn who are trying to be cool with their new neighbors, members of the hard-partying Delta Psi fraternity. At one point, the couple even smokes pot and parties down with the frat boys, who are led by the ab-ripped but lunk-headed Teddy Sanders (Efron).
And all seems well between these neighbors, at least until the weary Mac and Kelly call the cops in to crack down on one particularly loud party. As a result, Teddy vows revenge on the couple, for breaking the “promise” they made (they pledged to him that they wouldn’t sic the law on the fraternity and would try to resolve any problems peacefully).
Thus begins a swiftly escalating game of one-upmanship, with Mac flooding the fraternity’s basement and Kelly starting a feud between Teddy and his best pal, Pete (Franco), and Teddy and company turning the rest of the neighborhood against the couple. Things get so bad that Mac and Kelly even drag in their “besties” — squabbling, soon-to-be exes Jimmy and Paula (played by Barinholtz and Carla Gallo) – for some high-tech shenanigans.
Director Nicholas Stoller (Finding Sarah Marshall) and producers-turned-screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (the upcoming American Storage) mine laughs out of material that’s both crude (such as the fraternity’s unique method of raising money to pay for house repairs) and silly-smart (the Robert De Niro theme party idea is a hoot).
And pitting the cast-against-type Rogen against Efron was a good move, even if they’re not the ones who are getting the biggest laughs here. Instead, it’s the versatile Barinholtz (Fox’s MADtv, The Mindy Project) and Franco (the younger brother of James) whose riffs really find their mark and who steal every scene they’re in.
Then there’s Australian actress Byrne, whose straight (wo)man performance in the similarly smart-crude hybrid comedy Bridesmaids didn’t really indicate that she was capable of something like this. Her frustrated, trying-to-be-cool Kelly is the best, most believable character of the bunch. And her “seduction” scene involving Franco’s character is among the inconsistent movie’s best.
Jeff Michael Vice can also be read reviewing comics and television for Big Shiny Robot! (www.bigshinyrobot.com), be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), and be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).