A perfunctory revenge comedy, Neighbors is elevated by lively, naturalistic performances by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as new parents reluctant to admit they’re no longer young or hip. When a rowdy fraternity (led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco) moves in next door and disrupts their domestic routine, the married couple is confronted with their own irrefutable grownupness. Soon enough, a late-night noise complaint to the cops kicks off a war between the neighbors.
Screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien lavishly detail each fresh sabotage and skimp on pretty much everything else. It’s halfway through the movie before Efron and Franco’s characters, interchangeably smooth-skinned and blandly bro-ish, are differentiated (Efron’s the dumb one, turns out). Similarly, director Nicholas Stoller – who has admirably grounded his broadly comedic films (The Five-Year Engagement, Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) with a base layer of emotional truth – misses the forest for the trees here, miscalculating his film’s strengths (Rogen and Byrne) and its weaknesses (the thuggish, bullying frat boys). His staging of a blowout bacchanalia chockablock with topless 20-year-olds feels like the gratuitous bonus material tacked onto a DVD release in order to hype it as unrated and, frankly, the work of a far cruder director.
Amusing enough, but weirdly joyless, Neighbors brings little new to the table, unless you count the “shock” of a woman’s veiny, milk-swollen breast being manually milked. Since the Farrelly Brothers’ mid-Nineties breakthrough, gross-out comedy has become an ever-elevating game of one-upmanship, wherein one film’s turd joke becomes another’s tidal swell of diarrhea. Is there a ceiling to this sort of thing’s entertainment value? To this viewer at least, Neighbors found the ceiling by bumping it ad nauseam.