1 hour, 36 minutes
There’s a passage in the Bible that, and I’m paraphrasing here, that tells us to put away childish things about the time we grow up.
When I left my 20s, I put away the slasher flicks and raunchy comedies that seem to be tailor made for people with very little responsibility and plenty of time on their hands, i.e., college and high school students. That’s probably not fair — I’m sure there are plenty of busy, responsible people who like a good horror movie or sex farce, but for me they just got to be too much.
That said, I’m a sucker for good writing, and if a film in one of those genres comes along that is sharp and witty and really has something to say, I’m in. Case in point: “The Cabin in the Woods.” This is a gory horror movie to its very roots, but because it was clever and very well-written, I enjoyed the heck out of it. “The 40-Year Old Virgin” is another example of a hard-R genre flick that really stands out from the crowd. This weekend, my wife and I decided we just wanted a pure comedy — something you could turn off your mind and just enjoy.
We chose the Seth Rogan laffer “Neighbors” over the weepy “Heaven is for Real” or the potentially preachy (but probably pretty funny) “The Other Woman.” Unfortunately for us, “turning off your mind” was a goal for everyone involved in the production of “Neighbors,” not just the audience.
The story is pretty simple, and spelled out in the trailers, along with all the actual funny parts of the movie. Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne play Mark and Kelly Radner, brand-new parents living in a nice, big suburban house and hoping for some fun, easy-going neighbors. What they get, instead, is a fraternity which moves its headquarters, lock stock and keg right next door. When the non-stop party begins, Mark and Kelly decide to try and get on the good side of their new neighbors by stopping by, offering a friendly “welcome to the neighborhood” joint, and then politely asking if they wouldn’t mind keeping the noise down. Naturally this doesn’t go exactly as planned and what results is all-out war between the two houses. It’s a battle fought with fireworks and police calls, booby-trapped airbags and broken water-mains, and penises. So many penises.
Problem number one, two, and, well really as high as you want to count, with this movie is the writing. It is terrible. The dialogue is obnoxious, incredibly simplistic, and insulting, to boot. As if you couldn’t figure out what was going on, the script requires the actors continually remind each other of the basic facts of the plot so you, the moviegoer, won’t get lost.
Maybe they assume everyone in the audience will be as high as the characters on screen are, and they have to compensate.
Also, just plot-wise, the movie has no idea how to build tension.
The battles between the Radners and the frat, embodied by an incredibly good-looking Zach Efron, start at middling level and never really escalate. A counter-example of this is the criminally underrated Tom Hanks comedy, “The ‘Burbs,” which starts slow but builds to an incredible crescendo of mayhem. In “Neighbors,” the words spoken on-screen between the characters would suggest that the stakes are rising, but all the action (aside from the aforementioned airbag sequence, which was really pretty funny) seems fairly listless. Again, the marijuana factor. Every fifteen minutes or so the movie kind of shakes itself awake and flashes a penis on the screen in one fashion or another in order, I guess, to assert some kind of shock-factor credibility. Needless to say it doesn’t work.
I think what bothered me the most about this movie is that we were game. My wife and I knew what we were getting into and were really ready to give it a shot. It’s not that we can’t handle the language or the nudity, it’s that it was so, so poorly constructed. Even the look of the film felt low-budget — like this was an indie comedy shot on the cheap but without any of the cleverness or heart that usually comes with the indie label.
Worst of all are the characters of the Radners themselves. I am about the farthest thing from a frat guy you’ll find, so I was really ready to sympathize with these young parents, but I just couldn’t. They are odious, awful people. Completely unlikable. If I thought this movie was smarter, I would assume that these characters were written to be such disgusting human beings on purpose — that the frats were the unlikely heroes of a subversively black comedy. But that’s not true. The writers think the Radners are funny but I just couldn’t turn off my mind to that extent. Every time they left the 6-month-old alone at home to go and get drunk and stoned, every time they had sex in front of the baby, really every time they were in the frame I wanted to throw something at the screen.
“Neighbors” is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while, and we came very close to walking out. It could almost earn my rarely given grade of F, if it weren’t for a few things. Zach Efron and Dave Franco, leaders of the frat, are pretty likable characters, surprisingly, and might have made fine additions to a different film. There are a few pretty funny pieces to the film, and the whole thing ends with a surprisingly sweet, though ultimately pointless scene between Rogan, who barely manages to maintain his affable status, and Efron.
I really, really didn’t like “Neighbors,” but I guess I didn’t flat out loathe it. How’s that for faint praise?
“Neighbors” is rated R for pervasive language, constant nudity, sexual situations, and moderate violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.