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With: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ike Barinholtz, Lisa Kudrow, Jake Johnson, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo
Written by: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Running Time: 96
Date: 05/09/2014

Neighbors (2014)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Offends and 'Neighbors'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In movie comedies that embrace cheerful, filthy chaos and anarchy, shocking viewers into laughter is something that happens only rarely, such as the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles or the zipper scene in There's Something About Mary. Hence, to pull off a successful raucous comedy, filmmakers must concentrate on the "cheerful" part.

Nicholas Stoller's Neighbors begins to understand this only as it heads into its second half. Even if you feel unmoved early on, you may still leave with a smile.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne (who gets to keep her Australian accent) star as Mac and Kelly Radner, a young couple with an adorable baby girl and a house in a nice neighborhood. They're happy, but they struggle with their identity as parents, and their lack of youthful freedom.

Meanwhile, a fraternity house unexpectedly moves in next door. The Radners cluelessly introduce themselves to the frat president, Teddy (Zac Efron) and vice president Pete (Dave Franco), and ask them to keep down the noise. The fraternity brothers know that keeping the neighbors happy is crucial, so they invite the Radners to a blowout party that includes psychedelic mushrooms and "Batman" impersonations. But when the Radners eventually call the cops, the trust is broken and an all-out war begins.

Director Stoller's first feature, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, created a deft balance of characters and laughs, but in Neighbors, that balance is a bit off. In the first half, the characters pretend to be who they think they're supposed to be, cool, courageous, etc. Moments involving car air bags, sex toys, and breast milk are undoubtedly supposed to invoke screams of laughter.

But it's not until they truly find themselves that the laughs start kicking in. The funniest moments are more personal. In a terrific scene for Byrne, her character cleverly uses her people skills to determine the pecking order of the frat house in order to bring it down from within.

A major problem is Efron. He's well cast as a handsome frat boy, and he manages his line readings without problem, but even in the movie's second half, his cold, lifeless eyes never reveal anything inside. In moments in which Mac and Teddy are supposed to be bonding, Rogen appears to be doing the work for both of them.

While Efron's fans will be ecstatic to know that he goes shirtless several times, it should be noted that Rogen does too. To put a point to it, Neighbors is certainly revealing, in more ways than one, but it could have been more so.

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