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Neighbors - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

Between ten and fifteen years ago, there was a rash of raunchy comedies with a misguided "wholesome" center -- think Adam Sandler's Big Daddy, or Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty. These movies, broadly not the best on offer at multiplexes, did have their moments, but the "lessons" their characters learned, mostly about growing up in some way, usually rang false.

Neighbors has the heart that those movies were aiming for but missed. Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) gets that part right, if not everything: Some are likening Neighbors to Animal House with nuance. Except, at times, there's a little too much nuance and not enough Animal House. But at least the nuance is sincere.

Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are young parents with an improbably quiet six-month-old baby. (Seriously, this baby never once cries in the movie. We can only assume there was no room for baby crying in the plot.) They sure want to make sure their baby remains undisturbed, though, because they get very nervous when the empty house next door gets filled up with a college fraternity -- headed by frat president Teddy (Zac Efron) and vice president Pete (Dave Franco).

We can only presume that Rogen is playing older here, because in real life that guy is 32 years old. Clearly Efron, who is 26, is playing younger, as a college Senior who would thus be about 22. The often shirtless Efron is ridiculously chiseled, even for a college kid, which Rogen makes light of: "Your body looks like a giant arrow pointing to your dick!" (It kind of does.) Do college kids really refer to people all of ten years older than them as "old people"? Maybe I don't know because I'm 38.

The uneven but often very funny script, by first time feature writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, plays up how "out of touch" Mac and Kelly are because they are older: they pass out flyers to a party rather than using the Internet, as if the Internet didn't exist ten years ago; they smoke week but don't know any easy ways to get it. And these guys presumably live in California. From my perspective, the depiction of the frat guys seems more realistic, but only because I have no real-world experience on which to base that perception -- neither currently nor from back when I was in college. It would be interesting to hear how actual college kids respond to this movie.

Not that anyone goes to a movie like this to pick apart its realism, mind you. That's just an annoying habit of mine. As always with a comedy, all that matters is if it is funny -- and unequivocally, it is. It could have stood some more consistency in that regard, as some of the punch lines work better than others. But I will freely admit I laughed a great deal. And the group sitting further down my same row in the theatre laughed even more.

It might not have worked even this well if not for the genial actors, all of whom give breezy, relaxed performances and settle comfortably in their rolls. Teddy is deceptively welcoming to Mac and Kelly at first, in an attempt to smooth them over; the "older" couple gets wasted and parties with them all night. But they're not interesting in partying every night, and they soon grow so tired of the constant ruckus that they engage in a string of battles. Mac and Kelly attempt sabotage in order to get the fraternity to move; Teddy leads the effort to push back more for sheer entertainment than anything else.

It's a pretty simple conceit that mostly works by being straightforward, with humor in the details. Then the layers sneak up on you when Pete starts to see how Teddy is just frightened by the future Mac and Kelly represent. Neighbors on the whole is not nearly as solid as it could have been, as it lacks a bit of polish. But very few people going to see it are going to care, or even notice. They'll just get a guaranteed hour and a half of pretty good laughs, and then leave the theatre immediately forgetting about it.

Zac Efron is one of Seth Rogen's NEIGHBORS.

Overall: B
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