If you can buy the idea of Seth Rogen as an old fogey, or at least an old fogey in training, it might be a little easier to accept the strained comic premise of “Neighbors.”
On the other hand, why bother since the whole business is basically a setup for rude, crude, raunchy gags? And since just enough of them work to make watching it worthwhile. If that’s all you’re looking for.
Rogen plays Mac Radner, an office worker who has recently bought a home in the suburbs with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) for their new baby girl. Mac tries to hold onto some vestige of youth by sneaking out to the loading dock to smoke a joint and laboring for some sense of spontaneity in his sex life with Kelly, but that battle’s already lost. “Just because we have a house and a baby doesn’t mean we’re old people,” he says to the eager-to-agree Kelly. They’re well on their way, though.
That makes it wincingly painful when a fraternity suddenly moves in next door and they come on hip and cool, hoping to ingratiate themselves with the bros and avoid confrontations about noisy parties. Especially since the strategy works, mainly because frat president Teddy (frequently shirtless, buffed-out Zac Efron) is savvy enough to make a deal with them. Until Mac goes back on his word and calls the cops the first time a party gets out of control — and war is declared.
After that, “Neighbors” shifts into outrageous mode with back-and-forth attacks and retaliations, most of them involving sex, drugs and assorted bodily fluids. Highly pressurized breast milk is featured in one slapstick set piece and sword fighting with giant dildos in another. By comparison, the extended sequence in which strategically planted airbags bounce Mac off the ceiling seem like good, clean, wholesome fun.
The best thing about “Neighbors” (directed by Nick Stoller, whose much-better “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was produced by Judd Apatow — sadly absent here) is Byrne as Kelly, proving she’s not to be messed with when she feels her baby is threatened. The film’s best sequence involves her elaborate strategy to turn Teddy’s pal Pete (Dave Franco) against him by engineering Pete’s seduction by Teddy’s girlfriend at a party. And her easy, breezy chemistry with Rogen goes a long way toward making Mac and Kelly likeable.
Even though their characters go to great lengths to make themselves seem just the opposite. It’s an ongoing surprise to see just how treacherous, unprincipled and even cruel those two can be, as they attempt to destroy Teddy and the frat boys with one dirty trick after another.
You never would have seen the Cleavers behaving this way on “Leave it to Beaver.” Well, you wouldn’t have seen the Cleavers doing any of this stuff, of course, but at least with them, you knew where you stood. They might bore you to death, but they wouldn’t stick a knife in your back.