The writing credits for the comedy Neighbors give the names of first-time screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien but the comic rhythms are unmistakably those of the movie’s leading growly bear, Seth Rogen. Seven years after his movie breakthrough in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, he’s back to being a daddy, Mac Radner, married to a hottie wife, Kelly (Rose Byrne), peering over his glasses, making blunt, profane observations and looking about as comfortable as a man in burlap underpants.
Reliably, Rogen is mostly funny though Neighbors is more of a framework than a script. The premise is a battle between a young family and their frat-boy party animal neighbours.
Thirty-five years after Animal House, it’s the middle-class who are heroes here. At the same time, Neighbors is hip enough to acknowledge that squares (i.e. Bill O’Reilly fulminating about Beyoncé), often long for what they condemn.
By day, Mac wears a white shirt and skinny tie and works a cubicle job, slipping out from time to time to smoke weed with his buddy (Ike Barinholtz). At night, he and his exhausted wife stare at their beaming baby girl (the kid’s constant smile looks CGI’d on) and promise to get back their lives, and sex, soon.
“Just because we have a house and a baby doesn’t mean we’re old people” insists Mac.
Then the party arrives, in the form of the Delta Psi, led by the studly Teddy (Zac Efron), who, as Mac notes, looks “like something a gay guy designed in a laboratory.” (Gay panic figures high on the joke list here). Along with his slightly smarter, adoring vice-chairman, Pete (Dave Franco), Teddy leads a crew of misfits, devoted to the cult of babes, bud and beer. After initially partying with the boys to establish their goodwill, Mac gets wasted on magic mushrooms and crosses urine streams (“Sword fight!”) with his new best pal. The next night, when the party next door is even louder and wilder, the Radners revert to their new parent roles. The Teddy-Mac budding bromance suddenly cools, and war is declared.
Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) guides the action less for narrative coherence than visual gags: Bring on the plaster dildo fight scene! Occasionally, the bits miss woefully, particularly in a sequence about Kelly’s use of a breast pump (turns out those things also produce milk).
What’s actually fun here, apart from all that’s familiarly rude, crude, lewd and nude, is the interplay of Rogen and Byrne (they look like the product of multiple-take improvs) as the couple push each other from initial timidity to outlandish vengeance.
Rogen’s always a dominating presence, but the doll-like Australian actress, who showed her comic chops in Bridesmaids, comes close to stealing the movie here, in an uncorked performance full of volatile, liberating mischief.