Neighbors (Nick Stoller, 2014) – If nothing else, you’ve gotta give Seth Rogen credit for acknowledging his age. Sure, in his latest movie he plays a stoner with a heart of gold who feuds with frat kids, but at least this time he’s playing a thirty-something stoner with a heart of gold feuding with frat kids. By Hollywood standards, that’s a miracle. The movie is also very funny, which is also a bit of a miracle. Though told from the perspective of Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne playing a pair of new parents and homeowners struggling to deal with the concept of adulthood, Neighbors is at its core a college comedy. Given that the genre tends to pop up with one hit per generation to give college kids something to tide themselves over with in between keg parties, it is a bit weird that it took this long for Rogen to make one (excluding the cancelled-before-its-time Undeclared of course, which Rogen co-wrote and starred in rather than actually going to college). So, it’s amusing that when he finally stumbled into a college comedy, he did it as an outsider looking in desperately wanting to be part of the one party he missed. The plot summary for the film could fill a postage stamp. Rogen and Byrne awkwardly ask their new frat boy neighbors (Zac Efron and Dave Franco) to keep it down during their super-cool kick ass parties. The kids don’t, the baby parents call the cops. So a war breaks out between the college kids and parents who act like kids. End of plot.
It’s a simple comedy premise, but for the type of essentially meaningless laugh festival Neighbors wants to be, that’s all that’s necessary. The film comes from Apatow disciple Nicholas Stoller who directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him To The Greek, and The Five-Year Engagement (in addition to writing the new Muppets flicks). Like his previous outings, the movie is essentially a premise and an improvisation festival with the likes of Rogen (who also took an uncredited pass at the script with buddy Evan Goldberg), Byrne, Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Hannibal Buress swatting jokes and make-em-ups back and forth with reckless abandon. It’s the way this brand of R-rated comedy is made these days and with each movie Stoller is getting better at containing the anarchy. Neightbors might feel shaggy from all the improv, but Stoller at least keeps the running time to around 96 minutes, injects just enough narrative form for flow, and even tosses in a few visual flourishes. He’s slowly developing a style somewhere between the anarchistic surrealism of Adam McKay and the funny/sad charm of Judd Apatow and this is definitely Stoller’s smoothest outing to date, if not necessarily his best.
Rogen and all of his comedy compadres deliver the laughs you’d expect, but the real surprise is Rose Byrne. The actress is unschooled in this brand of comedy, but endlessly charming and game, offering Rogen easily his best lady sparring partner to date. Dave Franco is also pretty fantastic as the one frat boy with a brain, but his comedy chops only make Zac Efron’s comedically challenged ways all the more obvious. Don’t get me wrong, Efron is actually an decent actor when he tries and nails the tragedy of his graduating manchild without a future, but when you’re in a movie where one of your biggest scenes is a dildo fight, gravitas is not the primary goal. Efron just isn’t as funny as everyone around him and that’s a big comedy blackhole in the center of a cast bursting with zingers and funnies.
In the end, Neighbors is a meaningless romp. Sure, there’s some truth about the inevitability of maturity slipped in, but that’s not nearly as important as the airbag pranks, gratuitous breast milking scenes, and enough weed jokes to make Cheech (but not Chong) blush. That’s not a bad thing when the hit to miss ratio is as high as it is in Neighbors, it just puts a cap on how much you can get out of the movie (even the weird darkness and meta-comedy of last year’s no less silly This Is The End was more than enough to make that movie more substantial). If you’re looking for chuckles that won’t require much brainpower (as a result of immaturity, stupidity, being stoned, or all three), this flick delivers in spades. It might not feel like a new comedy classic like Rogen’s best work, but at least confirms he’s out of the cashgrab Green Hornet/Guilt Trip phase of his career.
Neighbors debuts on Blu-ray in a very pretty digital package that looks fantastic on an HD TV, even though looking great adds very little to the viewing experience. There is nothing about Neighbors that qualifies as a HD showcase, but it’s certainly a pretty presentation if you care. Like all Universal comedy releases, the disc comes packed with extra jokes, deleted imrpovs, and extended scenes (though thankfully they’ve given up on pointless “Unrated Extended editions since there’s virtually nothing you can’t get away with in an R-rated comedy Hollywood these days). Things kick off with an alternate opening showing how the frat boys lost their frat if you ever wondered. It’s pretty funny, but may as well have just been included in the deleted scenes section. Speaking of which, there are 13 minutes worth of deleted/extended scenes, which are mostly superfluous but should add at least 25 laughs to your Blu-ray experience (especially a deleted finale involving a pretty fantastic and unexpected pair of cameos). The usual line-o-rama improv fest and a round outtakes also add about 10 minutes of goofy hilarity from the cast, showcasing just how much fun they all had and how much that adds to this type of goof-off comedy.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for any behind-the-scenes details, you’re going to be underwhelmed. There are three 6-minute features about the Rogen/Efron combo, the frat cast, and the parents with half-serious insights from Stoller and his cast. Would a commentary or more making-of material been nice? Sure, but with a willingly silly and insubstantial comedy like this, what more could really be said? It’s a joke factory and extra jokes are really all you need for the Blu-ray. Finally, to wrap things up there’s a featurette about all the prosthetic penises and dildos used in the movie because…well…why not.
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