Saturday, May 10, 2014


 2 / 5 

It's entirely appropriate that so much of Neighbors involves marijuana. Most of the movie feels like hanging out with a friend who's high. It's not nearly as funny as it thinks it is, it's way too loud, but it's harmless and occasionally makes you laugh along.

Depending on your point of view, the poster either promises or threatens that Neighbors is "from the guys who brought you This Is the End," which was a movie that mostly befuddled me.  These people obviously have a great time making their movies, and they've become a stoner version of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater, pulling together roughly the same group of friends for a cinematic venture, though in this case "cinematic" might be stretching it a bit.

But Neighbors mostly made me wonder what it could have been if the creators had laid off the bud and spent their time studying a few classic comedies instead.  They've got the ideas, they've got the ability to write good jokes, but their timing is all off and the movie moves in fits and starts, sometimes genuinely funny, other times moderately amusing, but a lot of the time completely confused by its own characters and situations.

There really aren't any characters here, just some basic outlines -- Mac and his wife (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) live on a quiet street lined with houses decorated by Pottery Barn, and when a moving van shows up next door the occupants aren't the gay couple they hoped but a raucous, noisy fraternity.  The fraternity has loud, pot-filled parties, and for a while it seems they all might find a way to get along, since Mac and his wife are sort of stunted adolescents, anyway, despite having just had a baby.  They smoke pot, too, and they can party right along with the frat boys.

But when Mac calls the police, frat president Teddy (Zac Efron) decides to seek revenge.  Some of the things he and his frat brothers do is funny, but mostly it's scattershot -- and not in the manner of, say, Mel Brooks or the ZAZ brothers and theis exquisitely timed, gag-filled frolics, but in the way of a stoned college kid who hasn't really thought things out.

A lot of Neighbors seems like it might have been improvised, like the script was really more of an outline than a tightly constructed bit of comedy.

Making people laugh isn't easy.  It requires more than sitting around and talking about penises, booze, vomiting and pot.  Talk about those things enough and you're going to elicit a giggle, it's inevitable.  It's also the lazy way out, and Neighbors is mostly lazy.  This is a "culture war" movie, in which the two sides shouldn't understand anything about each other, but Mac and his wife aren't strait-laced enough to sell that concept, and frat president Teddy's need for revenge doesn't feel grounded.  To be really great, comedy requires that kind of rooting in reality, and Neighbors just doesn't have it.  (An example: One whole scene is devoted to the couple learning they could never sell the house, and the screenwriters have thought through the dilemma enough to bring the real-estate agent into the picture -- but they never address the point of how a frat house could have been been sprung on residents in the first place.)

Neighbors is friendly and good-natured, offering more than few chuckles.  It's what passes for comedy to most of today's audiences, and delivers most of what it promises; it's just too bad its comedic aspirations weren't, ahem, higher.

Viewed May 10, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


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