Film review: Neighbors hits it hard with frat humor

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Zac Ephron leads a house full of frat boys into a new neighborhood where they set up a 24/7 party scene in Neighbors. Image: Universal Pictures Zac Ephron leads a house full of frat boys into a new neighborhood where they set up a 24/7 party scene in Neighbors. Image: Universal Pictures

By this point, we’ve all seen the ads for Neighbors. Family vs. frat. Thirtysomethings vs. drunk 20somethings. Seth Rogen and gross-out humor.

Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Plus, the last movie Rogen starred in, This is the End, is so bad that any reasonable adult could be forgiven for thinking Rogen had jumped the shark and would never star in anything decent in the future.

Good news: Neighbors is hilarious. It has a simple formula—the aforementioned family vs. frat—solid jokes, and above-average performances. But, and this is key, it knows it’s a goofy idea and uses that to its advantage. Plus, director Nicholas Stoller specializes in making good movies out of thin premises; he’s also responsible for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and the underappreciated The Five-Year Engagement.

Mac (Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) are a married couple in their early 30s with a newborn. They’re happily adjusting to domestic life and love their neighborhood.

The trouble begins when a fraternity moves in to the house next door. To prove they’re cool, and also to politely warn the neighbors about loud partying, Mac and Kelly introduce themselves and bring some weed as a gift. The weed (and the baby, funnily enough) is a big hit with the fraternity brothers, and the president, Teddy (Zac Efron), and vice president, Pete (Dave Franco), promise to keep the noise level down. They also ask that if Mac and Kelly have problems with the fraternity, they bring it to the house and not the cops.

Mac and Kelly attend a party and everything is cool. But then a subsequent party is too off the rails, and Mac calls the police. Teddy and Pete consider the police intervention a breach of trust and decide to make life miserable for the Radners, even though everyone still finds the baby really cute.

From then on it’s pranks and silliness—hard R-rated silliness. Stoller has edged toward complete outrageousness before (the stabbing scene in Get Him to the Greek, for example), but Neighbors is the first time he’s fully embraced it (chalk that up to Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s script). Mac and Kelly work up a cockamamie scheme to get the fraternity banned from the college, and have some uproarious exchanges with the over-it-all dean (Lisa Kudrow).

Another thing Neighbors does well is shine a light on how easy it is to forget what it’s like to be young. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking, but Mac and Kelly face questions we all face when we get older: What the hell happened to us? Are we no longer fun? Do we take our lives so seriously that we get bent out of shape over a loud rave? Aren’t we justified in feeling this way?

The entire cast is excellent, particularly Byrne, who continues to show a gift for comedy. She’s matched by Rogen, who excels at this type of role (which is not all that different from what he does in every movie), and Efron and Franco, even if they’re a little too old to play college seniors.

Enjoy Neighbors. It’s smart (in its stupidity), it looks better than any college movie should, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny. And you get to see an almost naked Seth Rogen. Who could ask for more?

Neighbors/R, 96 minutes/Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

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