Stepping out of Neighbors into the cold, calm, dick-joke-free real world, you might find yourself hit with a barrage of "But wait..." moments: "Why did they move into a new frat house just a month or two before the end of college?" "When was it established that she wanted to sleep with him?" "Where did that pledge come from?" "Who was that other guy?" "If he, then why?" "When did?" "How?" "What?" "Huh?!" Yeah, there are enough logical holes in Nicholas Stoller's comedy to warrant an "Everything Wrong with Neighbors" gag trailer and a dozen or two angry message threads. But the tenability of a movie's realism isn't exactly on trial when it sells itself as the Seth Rogen comedy in which a baby eats a condom.
Neighbors eagerly liberates itself not only from the laws of basic reality or tight storytelling, but also from the rigid shackles of any one comic tone. We jump from a slice of life about new parents Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Rose Byrne) who aren't quite ready to say goodbye to their youth instantly to a wild and wacky college farce about the fraternity one house over (led by Zac Efron and second banana Dave Franco), borrowing a lexicon from latter day National Lampoon. As the war picks up between these congenial neighbors-turned-close-quarters enemies, we're invited into a back and forth of vicious, albeit loony, aggression, each maneuver to "get those fogeys/punks next door" escalating in hostility, danger, and independence from earthbound possibility. As we're treated to this ceaseless exercise in human malignance, Neighbors peppers in episodes of cartoon-grade zaniness, macabre pathos, and absolute surrealism. And although it might not seem like all of these comic identities can exist in the same film, Neighbors has a special trick up its sleeve to make it all work: it's funny. Never brilliant, and rarely all that fresh, but always funny.
The frat stuff plays broad, often saddling Efron's sadomasochistic pseudo-villain, Franco's vulnerable prick, and the pair's gang of goons — a wily Christopher Mintz-Plasse and an effortlessly charming Jerrod Carmichael at the top of the heap — with the usual party flick shenanigans like dance-offs and flaming barrels of marijuana. The team of youngsters is at its best, though, when the standard routine is shirked for more peculiar fare, like an abstract non sequitur that has Franco demonstrating a bizarre biological skill, or a fractured history of drinking games as narrated through flashbacks by a passionate Efron.
A good deal of fun can be pinned on the usual assortment of physical gags, pop culture references (one extended bit plays on the film histories of Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, and Al Pacino to endearing results), and the goofball antics of supporting players like Ike Barinholtz (as Mac's zealous, dimwitted pal). But Neighbors' secret weapon is Byrne, outshining the established comedic reputations of her co-stars with her performance as Kelly. Catapulted miles from the doldrums of straight-man-hood, Byrne tops even Rogen in awkward panache (watching her struggling to interact with the younger breed early on in the movie is delightful) and diabolical villainy alike — the very biggest laughs come from Byrne unleashing her furies or executing evil schemes. If Neighbors inspires any lasting impression, it should be a new appreciation for Byrne's chops in the humor department.
Somehow, this farcical grab bag never feels lethally convoluted or overstuffed. While the film's pacing does no great favors — we jump right into the principal conflict, which is a tough beat to sustain for so long — and a few abject narrative leaps keep the story from feeling tidy, these problems feel like a second priority. Even if some of the jokes feel strained or rehashed, if the characters are malleable, if the conceit is overcooked, or if there are too many plot holes to count... we're laughing. So it's working.
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WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
For real estate broker Peter Klaven the bride wasn’t hard to land; it’s finding a best man that’s proving the real challenge. After he gets engaged to sweet Zooey he realizes he has no close male friendships so he sets off on a series of “man dates” to rectify the situation until he finally stumbles upon Sydney Fife a care-free bachelor and Peter’s polar opposite. An immediate best-buddy connection is formed as the two bond to Rush music and engage in honest mano et mano conversation. But when the bromance gets a little too intense it causes ripples in his relationship with Zooey and threatens the wedding.
WHO’S IN IT?
With a cast who mainly cut their teeth in TV sitcoms and improv this is can’t-miss comedy providing the best role Paul Rudd has had to date. Playing Peter as the ultimate female-loving straight guy a potential bride’s dream because he likes to cuddle up on the couch and watch chick flicks like Chocolat Rudd is hilarious especially later on as he tries the male-bonding thing with Sydney -- using hip phrases and non-sequiturs he is incapable of uttering with any level of competence. There’s a grounded sweetness to Rudd in this role and he never loses sight of the character. Rudd and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) are sensationally funny together -- the best movie buddy team in years. That’s largely because Segel also is down-to-earth in a role that could have soared over the top but never does. The two are always believable and that’s key to making the comedy work as well as it does. Rashida Jones is refreshingly likeable and sweetly understanding if frustrated as Peter’s fiancée. As her BFFs are: Jaime Pressly (My Name Is Earl) who is always battling with her hubby (a riotous Jon Favreau) and Sarah Burns as the awkwardly man-hungry Hailey are highly amusing. SNL’s Andy Samberg is surprisingly understated as Peter’s gay brother and there are nice moments from J.K Simmons (Juno) and Jane Curtin as their parents. And watch out for Thomas Lennon who steals his few scenes as Doug a spurned early “man date” of Peter’s. The original Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno also turns up as himself in a wryly amusing running gag.
This is a broad comic premise but it’s never allowed to careen out of control allowing everyone to create three-dimensional human beings despite the hijinks going on around them. The bits with Rudd and Segel jamming on Rush songs are great and so is the endless stream of corny catchphrases such as Rudd’s "we’re just chillaxin’" and Segel’s "Dude Von Dudenstein."
Considering the smart instinctual comic chops that writer/director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) displays here he could have cut back on the raunch which gets piled on a little thick at times for the film’s own good; although compared to last week’s dreadful buddy bomb Miss March this is Disney stuff.
There are too many to name but the Chinese restaurant engagement dinner is a comic knockout particularly when it comes to Segel’s toast -- full of thinly disguised and totally inappropriate sexual innuendo.