Apparently set in a fantasy universe where parents abandon their infants for long stretches of (party) time, “Neighbors” is the latest in a stream of “R” rated comedies that will interrupt our summer movie-going experience between various comic-book tentpoles, innumerable sequels, and mind-numbing, over-produced retreads. Sandwiched between last week’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and the upcoming incarnation of that long-running Japanese beastie “Godzilla,” this labored Seth Rogen starrer is an exercise in predictable, yet occasionally enlightened, humor that will probably find itself atop the box office charts this Mother’s Day weekend, catering to the naughty raunch and young adult crowd.
Produced by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who brought you last year’s hilarious, apocalyptic laugher “This Is the End“) and directed by Nicholas Stoller, whose proclivity toward sex and drugs was previously examined in 2010’s “Get Him to the Greek,” there’s enough frat boy humor afoot in this tale of mismatched neighbors to make you moan, titter, or snicker, depending on what’s flowing through your bloodstream at the time of viewing.
Stoller’s generally well-centered comic muse, Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “The Five-Year Engagement“), has been replaced by the exasperatingly impulsive antics of his current stooge, Rogen. His oafish character is named Mac Radner, who, with his zany trophy wife, Kelly (“Bridesmaids” straight arrow Rose Byrne), are happily settled in their suburban starter home with their impossibly well-behaved little girl. Their party lives are seemingly behind them as they fall into the slings and arrows of parenthood, until their bland, peaceful existence is shattered when Delta Psi Beta moves in next door.
Havoc ensues under the tutelage of the well-chiseled, often shirtless, fraternity chapter president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron, last seen in the little seen comedy “That Awkward Moment,” but now proving there is life beyond Disney high school musicals). He’s a poster child for irresponsibility, whose sole purpose is providing a well-framed photo of ultimate notoriety, one in a long history of such collegiate abuses for his House. Along with his henchmen, er, frat brothers (including Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael, and Craig Roberts, bearing, in more frightening order, role names such as Pete, Scoonie, Garf, and Assjuice), an escalating battle between the thirty-somethings and the newly arrived youngsters begins shortly after Mac and Kelly indulge in a night in with “the boys,” partaking in numerous illegal drugs and amoral activities. Soon, the fight is on to showcase everyone’s immaturity, including Mac’s work friend Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Jimmy’s ditsy ex-wife Paula (Carla Gallo).
The screenplay by first timers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien is painted with broad strokes rather than sharp wit. I wonder if Rogen didn’t ad lib a few of the many off-color jokes himself. Actually, I’m rooting for Rogen and Byrne to win the MTV award for their best ‘relief of a lactating mother’ scene. There’s also a clever salute to Robert DeNiro that I doubt that actor would have sanctioned, and a running visual gag about the misuse of car airbags that offers some funny CGI moments. I was probably over-thinking those explosive moments, as there is no way these brothers are smart enough to re-engineer the bags in so cunning a manner.
As a leave-your-brain-at-home flick, “Neighbors” throws enough nonsense about to cook up an adequate stew of laughs and groans within its infantile framework.