If Judd Apatow of "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" fame directed the classic frat-house comedy "Animal House," it would look exactly like "Neighbors," a raunchy, sloppy and relentlessly funny film that feels much like a party one would attend in college: You’ve been to this kind of celebration before, and you may not remember it very well the next day, but it’s a total blast in the moment.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne star as Mac and Kelly Radner, a couple in their early thirties who are still attempting to transition into "adult life" after moving into a suburban neighborhood with their adorable newborn baby. Despite the fact that they’re loving parents, their new responsibilities have made them feel as if their youth has completely faded away, resulting in the two of being on the verge of a pre-midlife crisis.
Hence, when a fraternity moves into the house next door, led by a dimwitted beefcake named Teddy (Zac Efron), it becomes Mac and Kelly’s worst nightmare. They don’t want to seem like lame party poopers who bust college students’ parties through noise complaints, especially since they were that age merely a decade ago (Rogen, in particular, sees so much of his younger self in Teddy), but they’ve got a baby to take care of, and in no way is having a bunch of beer-guzzling ’bros’ wreaking havoc every night of the week next door a safe environment in which to raise a child.
When Mac and Kelly introduce themselves to everyone in the frat, they try to show that they’re still cool by offering them a joint, but can’t come up with a nice, proper way to ask them to keep their noise-level to a minimum, and the tension only increases rapidly from there. What begins as a mild butting of heads between the two parties escalates into a series of gross-out gags, slapstick and wildly over-the-top set pieces that are as cheerfully mischievous as they are outrageously funny.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller, whose debut feature "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" was one of the funniest mainstream comedies in years, "Neighbors" isn’t groundbreaking material by any means, and not every joke sticks its landing (can we please stop writing punch-lines that revolve around rape?), but for every gag or one-liner that falls flat, there are about three or four more within the same minute that will have you cackling uproariously. Stoller knows how to frame a comic set piece successfully, and apart from some rather odd transitions, he surprisingly shows off some impressive visual flair, particularly during the film’s rowdier moments at the frat-house.
The film’s success is also in thanks to the extremely likeable cast, all of who are perfectly suited in their roles.
Rogen has played this character numerous times before, but you never get the sense that he’s phoning anything in. Actually, you get the exact opposite impression; he’s willing to do anything for a laugh regardless of how stupid, crude or flat-out ugly he’ll make himself look, and yet he never seems anything less than sincere and warm-hearted.
Efron is perfectly cast in his role as well, and who had any idea that he had such sharp comic timing? Some of the biggest laughs in the film actually came from his deadpan delivery, typically when he’s bonding with the vice president of his fraternity, Pete (played by the equally hilarious Dave Franco), or even when he’s getting along with Rogen in the earlier scenes before they declare war on one another.
The real standout, however, is Rose Byrne, who after showing off her comedic chops in "Bridesmaids" three years ago steals just about every scene that she’s in. After years of having poorly written female characters in rauch-fests such as these, it’s so refreshing to see a character who’s not just a wife, but a loving mother, reveling in just as much cheerfully R-rated mayhem as her male counterparts.
Even at a mere 96-minutes, "Neighbors" does sag at times (an argument between Mac and Kelly that comes before the climax feels utterly contrived), and it does run out of steam by the end, but it’s funnier than it has any right to be, and is certainly one of the more manically inspired mainstream comedies to come out in quite some time. It may not be in the same league as other iconic frat-house comedies or even Rogen’s continually impressive filmography, but it serves up more laughs-per-minute more than anything else in theaters right now, and in a world where we don’t get enough funny comedies these days, that’s more than enough to warrant a night out by attending this raucous party.