The premise for Neighbors seems inspired enough: A young couple with a baby are happy in their neighborhood until a fraternity from the local university buys the house next door, turning their suburban paradise into a nonstop party zone.
Things start off well, with Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) attempting to butter up the frat brothers, led by Teddy (Zac Efron), by attending one of their parties and doling out a secret marijuana stash.
When it’s funny, it’s hilarious, but Neighbors always seems to be hedging its bets rather than going all out.
Naturally, though, the couple can’t leave well enough alone, with a minor misunderstanding devolving into an all-out war between the neighbors that will come to involve all manner of debauchery and destruction.
Funnily enough, part of the reason the film doesn’t reach its full potential is because it actually tries to go more than skin deep on its main characters. Mac and Kelly experience real problems of a married couple, while Teddy and his cohort Pete (Dave Franco) are both given enough scenes to fully understand their backgrounds and what their motivations in life are.
But in a film that seemed to promise a barrage of people behaving badly, these diversions into seriousness are actually kind of a buzzkill. There are certain kinds of movies where knowing what drives the characters is a necessity, but this is not one of them.
When it does get down and dirty, it does so with gusto. Among the highlights are the frat brothers raising funds by making homemade dildos, Mac and Kelly tag teaming to drive a wedge between Teddy and Pete, and a finale filled with fireworks.
Still, the movie feels relatively tame compared with other movies involving fraternities like Animal House or Old School. When it’s funny, it’s hilarious, but the film always seems to be hedging its bets rather than going all out.
The star of the movie is indisputably Efron, who shows a lot more range than one would expect out of someone playing a party frat leader who has shirt off half the time. But he manages to surprise, unlike Rogen, who tries to once again work the schlubby doofus persona, to little effect.
Like many comedies before it, the best parts of Neighbors can be seen in the trailers. When you’re aiming for R-rated hilarity, that should never be the case.