If you were to ask someone who the greatest action star of the 80s was they are almost certainly going to tell you it was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Was it because Schwarzenegger was a great actor? No. Was it because he starred in truly great movies? Not really. I’d argue the real secret to Schwarzenegger’s success was consistency. While Stallone and Van Damme would often find themselves starring in absolute dreck in-between their hits, Schwarzenegger was able to establish a certain level of quality control throughout his career. When you went to a Schwarzenegger movie you could be pretty confident that it would at least be as good as The Running Man. I’d argue that, in the world of comedy, Seth Rogen has managed to do something similar since his emergence in 2007’s Knocked Up: unlike the Adam Sandlers and Will Ferrells of the world he’s managed to maintain a pretty consistent streak of solid films. To date his only real out-and-out failures have been The Green Hornet (which was a misguided attempt to venture outside of his usual comfort zone) and The Guilt Trip (which seen by so few people that it couldn’t really affect his reputation ). It’s because Rogen has been such a reliable performer that I found myself seeing his latest comedy, Neighbors, even though its trailer did nothing for me and its premise seemed a bit off.
In Neighbors Seth Rogen is paired with Rose Byrne as one half of a young married couple with an infant daughter. They’ve recently moved into a home in a quiet neighborhood and while they’ve settled down they aren’t quite ready to put their partying ways behind them. While they may still view themselves as young and hip, their tolerance is quickly put to the test when the house next door to them is purchased by a group of college students and converted into a fraternity house. Initially the young couple tries to act cool around the frat guys, but it quickly becomes clear that no amount of politeness is going to prevent the party animals next door to quiet down and stop littering in their proximity. Quickly a feud forms between the two parents and the fraternity’s leaders (Zac Efron and Dave Franco), which escalates into elaborate pranks going both ways as one side tries to rid themselves of the other.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking to realize that this basic premise is pretty contrived. For one thing, the movie seems to take place in a town that doesn’t have any zoning laws. I’m sure there have been cases where fraternity houses have been placed in residential neighborhoods and have caused strife, but I’d think there would be some measures in place already to prevent scenarios like that. Additionally, the movie tries to very quickly eliminate sensible solutions to the problem like calling the police or rallying other neighbors to their cause in ways that stretch credulity. That’s not really a huge deal, sometimes you need to just go along with things like this in order to get a movie going, but if you’re going to do something like that there better be a whole lot of laughs to make up for it and frankly I think this movie is a little bit deficient in that regard.
If the film falls short it probably isn’t for lack of talent. Seth Rogen is mostly performing up to his usual high standard and here he does a pretty good job of (slightly) maturing his usual man-child slacker character. Rose Byrne also does a pretty decent job of holding her own in this usually very male dominated genre. On the frat side of the rivalry are actors like Christopher Mintz-Plasse (of Superbad fame) and Dave Franco (who’s really careening toward typecast territory), and they both do serviceable jobs in their roles. The real question mark going in was Zac Efron, who’s been increasingly trying to enter the world of R-rated comedy now that prepubescent girls aren’t swooning over him anymore. I’d say that he’s mostly alright here and doesn’t detract too much, but you can tell that he isn’t a comedy professional and there probably are other actors who could have added more to the movie.
At the core of Neighbors is a pretty solid set-up for a raunchy comedy. The generational strife of the story is well set-up and in spite of a handful of hiccups along the way, the movie actually does come together by its end. It’s because the film has a decent foundation that it’s that much more disappointing. The jokes here just aren’t good enough. I chuckled here and there but this just didn’t elicit the same kind of belly laughs that comparable movies like This is the End and 21 Jump Street did. That said, the elements that make the movie disappointing also bring it some redemption. There was enough going for the film that I was mostly able to enjoy watching it even if it didn’t really have me in stiches.
**1/2 out of Four