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Published: Friday, 5/9/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

‘Neighbors’ isn’t really zoned for many laughs

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in a scene from ‘Neighbors.’ Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in a scene from ‘Neighbors.’
UNIVERSAL PICTURES Enlarge

Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are the best kind of couple to have at parties: witty, vivacious, and not shy about having a good time.

But as a new dad and mom, they are candidates for a Child Protective Services investigation.

Only months into their lifetime commitment of parenthood, they jump at a friend’s invitation to attend a rave, even though the sudden late-night notice means they can’t secure a babysitter, and therefore must bring their daughter, Stella, along for the fun.

They even make a jokey song out of it, “baby’s first rave,” as if singing about child neglect makes it OK.

Fortunately, the couple fall asleep before the baby supplies are all packed, thus avoiding what most likely would have been the first of many parenting failures.

These neighbors shouldn’t be trusted to raise a plant, let alone an infant.

In the R-rated comedy Neighbors, Mac and Kelly and their cluelessness about caring for Stella could and should be a major source of humor — but it’s mostly overlooked. Instead, the film treats us to their incessant whining about the responsibilities that come with parenthood — you know, the unanticipated drag of staying home with the kiddo, and whether being 30-something parents with a mortgage means they can no longer have fun.

Their early mid-life crisis only grows worse when a fraternity moves in next door. At first, Mac and Kelly, in a rare moment of responsibility, worry the noise level from the Delta Psi Beta parties will keep Stella awake. Hours later, they’re joining in the fun; Mac consuming ’shrooms as if they’re snacks at a Super Bowl party, and Kelly, who’s never without her baby monitor, drinking and dancing the night away. They party as if their reputations depend on it and don’t go home until well past sunrise, to somehow find Stella still asleep. (Only in a Hollywood screenplay.)

After that night of bonding between the neighbors, the issue of loud parties is solved. Until the next fraternity party, when, in frantic desperation, Mac and Kelly call the cops to quiet the noise. That doesn’t sit well with the Delta Psi president, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who made Mac promise to call him about noise problems and to never narc to the police. Thus a series of escalating retaliatory measures is set in motion by Teddy and his fellow Greek brothers as revenge against their neighbors, and by Mac and Kelly to get the fraternity kicked out of the university.

The battle in the ’burbs is funny enough, though the trailers spoil many of the best laughs, including the airbag gags and the Robert DeNiro party. But there’s also dead air between the high jinks, with under-whelming payoffs to comedic set-ups and improvised scenes that go nowhere. For example, Lisa Kudrow as the university dean, whose one-joke scene with Rogen and Byrne about negative newspaper coverage of the fraternity doesn’t stop even as the audience laughter does.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller, Neighbors is long and loose, even at 96 minutes. Stoller directed the surprisingly successful 2008 comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but Neighbors is more in the vein of his sloppy hit-and-miss 2010 comedy Get Him to the Greek.

Neighbors

Directed by Nicholas Stoller.

Screenplay by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien.

A Universal release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.

Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout.

Running time: 96 minutes.

Critic’s rating: ★★

Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Mac is a variation of the man-child character Rogen often plays, only saddled with the responsibilities of being a husband and father — not that being an adult prevents him from smoking pot at his desk job, or behaving like a college freshman at a Spring Break beach party when the opportunity permits. His behavior finally reaches the point where even Kelly has enough, and she threatens to divorce him. It’s a quick separation; the couple that loves each other, enables each other as well.

Byrne is cute, funny, and lovable as Kelly, and she plays well with Rogen’s shtick. She’s also critically important to the film: Without Kelly as the mature member of the Radner household, Neighbors is simply A Stoner and a Baby.

As the muscled fraternity leader obsessed with making his legacy a Delta Psi party for the ages, Efron looks the part, but the screenplay by first-time feature writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien is indecisive when it comes to the character. Teddy is Dr. Jekyll charming and considerate and Mr. Hyde conniving and mean-spirited. In another genre, Teddy would make a convincing creepy serial killer.

Other fraternity members include Pete (Dave Franco, James’ younger brother), the Delta Psi vice president who is about to go on to a successful career in architecture, and Garf (Jerrod Carmichael), who steals much of the movie with jokes involving a sticky penis plaster cast and pubic hair, a Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction impersonation, and generally walking around while stoned. Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Scoonie, however, barely registers, with little to do in the film except carry the running joke that his character is well-endowed. Rounding out the cast are Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo as the divorced friends of Mac and Kelly, who are recruited to aid the couple’s cause.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

 



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