"You're really villaining out in here."
It's a tale as old as time, the snobs versus slobs comedy, and one which has seen it's fair share of incarnations over the last forty years. With the new comedy Neighbors, the filmmakers are taking a family versus frat approach that, at least on the surface, seems like something new and different. The idea of a frat moving into a residential neighborhood has been done before, as recently as 2003's Old School, but this time the focus is on the family as opposed to the frat. Would the gamble pay off or would this be just another lame retread hoping to milk more money from consumers with severe short term memory issues? Read on to find out...
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a thirty-something couple who have just moved into their dream house and started a family thanks to the birth of their daughter Stella. Desperate to cling to their youth, the two take a lackadaisical approach to parenting, with Mac continuing to blaze up with his friend Jimmy (Ike Barinhotlz) at work, and Kelly yearning to go out with her friend, and Jimmy's ex-wife, Paula (Carla Gallo). There seems to be promise on the horizon when a moving van pulls up to the vacant house next door, but much to their chagrin, they discover that it is a fraternity from the local college that is setting up their new frat house in the adjacent home.
Mac and Kelly decide to let them know that they're cool, and go to greet the frat boys and offer them a joint, and a request to keep it down. Fraternity president Teddy (Zac Efron) and vice-president Pete (Dave Franco) ensure them that they won't be a problem, and if Mac and Kelly ever have a problem, to come and tell them first and not go to the cops. They invite Mac and Kelly to come party with them that night, which they do, all night, with their infant at home alone, and a bond seems to be formed. However, the next night, Teddy does not respond to the couple's requests to keep it down, so they call the police. When the officer (Hannibal Burress) rats out Mac and Kelly as the ones who lodged the complaint, the frat declares all out war on their neighbors.
The most glaring and unforgivable sin of this film is the fact that the script is simply awful. It tries to make heroes out of a couple that wantonly neglect their child, and while first time parents certainly have their moments, they're not all-out miscreants who treat parenting as a cool thing to do in their spare time when they're not smoking weed. This has got to be, truly, one of the most awful couples ever put on screen, and to ask an audience to root for or, worse yet, sympathize with them is simply insane. What makes this all worse is that their daughter is absolutely adorable, making their neglect of her all the more egregious. This is seriously one of the cutest babies ever put on screen. It is woefully apparent that neither of the two men responsible for this script have children, and if they do, I weep for them. Maybe all the residuals they receive from the sale of this script will help them pay for some really great therapy.
The film could get a pass if it merely bungled this half of the equation, but the frat brothers are almost as grossly stereotypical and under-realized as the alleged protagonists. Teddy is the only character with any sort of arc in the entire film, and even his is tacked on as an after thought to start the film's third act. The first hour of the film played like a trailer for an even longer film. There was zero character development, and the scenes played out more like a highlight reel of things to come rather than a collection of scenes that drove the narrative forward. To call this the worst script for a major motion picture that's been released this year would be an understatement.
Director Nicholas Stoller has struggled with his first few films to edit them down to a manageable length. In trying to keep this film to ninety minutes, however, he cut out all of the important stuff like character development and motivation. The film moves, but completely at the expense of anything other than getting to the next joke, and once the third act hits, it's a hurry up and wrap this thing up situation, so even those moments go to waste. It's also disheartening to see the wonderful penultimate scene from 2007's vastly superior Superbad so blatantly ripped off near the end of this film. When Mac and Kelly crash into their bed to sum up their experiences over the past few weeks, quite literally at times, the film reveals that it's completely drenched with flop sweat and trying its best to remind people of a much better film that they could be watching instead.
It's a shame too, because the film does feature two ace performances from Efron and Franco. These two young men crackle with the vitality that Rogen and his cohorts did a decade ago, and all of the endless riffing by their elders make their performances that much more grounded by comparison. This trend of "why do one joke when three will suffice" really needs to die now, if not yesterday. It's obvious that the script didn't give the actors much to work with beyond a loose framework, and so they're forced to fill in the blanks. Some bits go on for the length of a bible as well, like a scene in which Byrne's character becomes engorged and needs to express breast milk because she can't feed her baby due to, you guessed it, an all-night bender that has made her milk into moonshine.
Neighbors isn't the worst movie ever made, but it's certainly one of the worst released already this year. There are a few laughs, but none of them come organically from the characters or situations. They're all throw away one-liners that likely seem funnier because of the dreck they're surrounded by. It feels like a concept more than a film, and the script is so atrocious, it's a wonder it ever got in front of cameras in its current state. It's obvious that the studios and producers are just putting out half baked products in the hopes that legitimate comedic talent will make it shine. Unfortunately, the best comedic talent in the world couldn't save this nonsense, let alone the cast they assembled.
GO Rating: 1/5