The best chance "Neighbors" has at making a box-office killing is that no one plays Seth Rogen quite like Seth Rogen. The second best is that teen boys and 20-something men will always laugh at jokes about breasts and sex toys
OK, I laughed at some of those, too. But -- and maybe this isn't fair -- if you're looking for "Neighbors" to join "Animal House" in the annals of great frat house comedies, expect to be disappointed. "Neighbors" isn't even on par with "Revenge of the Nerds."
Rogen plays Mac Radner, a guy making the transition from party dude to buckled-down adult, complete with idyllic new house, a lovely wife named Kelly (a funny, occasionally unhinged Rose Byrne), an incredibly cute new baby (women will swoon when they see how precious this baby is), and a stable if unspectacular office job.
Just when Mac seems to have talked himself into this way of life, college fraternity Delta Psi moves in next door. Led by Teddy Sanders (a very convincing Zac Efron), the lads break out sex, drugs and booze on the sidewalk before they even finish unloading the moving truck, while Mac and Kelly look on in horror. Bingo! We have the conflict that will produce hilariously uncomfortable situations scene after scene. Or that's the plan, anyway.
It works -- to a point. But I couldn't help waiting for the defining gag or peak moment in "Neighbors" that would have me still chuckling when I left the theater. It never came (a breast-pumping scene came closest). Instead, we see Mac and Kelly initially going way overboard to relate to their new neighbors in order to get them to keep the noise down -- way overboard. It's as if they somehow are witnessing the college party scene for the first time, and we are supposed to laugh at how awkward they feel. It's a clumsy setup (especially because you know Mac will end up being drawn to the parties). Having a frat party blaring nightly 10 yards away from a sleeping baby is more than enough to start a neighborhood war.
The neighborhood itself is another issue. Even though we see the frat boys making nice to everyone else to keep the complaints down, that's simply not enough to explain why this quiet neighborhood suddenly becomes a war zone, and only two people care. And when the police do come, they don't care, either. It's just weird -- even if it supports the idea that it's Mac and Kelly against the world.
The back-and-forth between the couple and the frat house has its moments -- especially when Mac and Kelly insert themselves into the parties on various sabotage missions (through parents will cringe at how much these two leave their baby alone). But in general, it seems the strategy by director Nicholas Stoller and screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien was to make things as crazy and noisy as possible and hope it would be enough to make us laugh. Sometimes it works (air bags, apparently, have hilarious alternative uses, and there was a guilty pleasure in watching two guys viciously duel with sex toys). But often it doesn't (drunk dudes professing love for each other and Rogen smoking pot and saying things only a stoner would say aren't exactly fresh concepts).
Efron is mildly surprising, giving his character a certain emotional depth, especially as the movie progresses and it becomes obvious there's more behind his antics. (It is a bit difficult to watch Efron, who has been in rehab and has a recent history of substance abuse, without wondering how it would feel for someone in his shoes to make a movie in which his character pretty much drinks nonstop.)
There probably could have been an overall theme here about the difficulty of growing up -- on both sides of this culture war -- but any chance at that gets buried by the film's relentless chaos. And it's too bad the film doesn't capitalize on Rogen's natural chemistry with both Efron and Byrne (though the ridiculousness of a guy who looks like Rogen being married to a woman who looks like Byrne is so pronounced the film has to acknowledge it by referencing Kevin James movies). With some better writing, "Neighbors" could have been a much more substantial movie. Instead, we have a film that will entertain some younger moviegoers but will be dismissed by those who have seen enough clever frat movies to realize that this is not one of them.