Neighbors, the new comedy starring Zac Efron and Seth Rogen, is not an official remake of the 1981 John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd film whose name it shares, but it does contain many of the same elements: a nice, suburban couple's life is interrupted when some crazy people move in next door, setting off a contest of wills between the two households. In director Nicholas Stoller's film, the "nice couple" in the classic setup is Mac and Kelly Radner, (Rogen and Rose Byrne, returning from director Stoller's 2010 Get Him To The Greek), while the "crazy neighbors" are the men of Delta Psi Beta, a fraternity from the nearby college that claims to have invented the toga party and beer pong. They are led by Teddy Sanders (Efron), a party maestro who is essentially a millennial take on Tim Matheson's Otter from Animal House.
If you think Neighbors sounds like a mashup of various Harold Ramis/Belushi/Aykroyd/John Landis movies that has been focus grouped to within an inch of its life, you're right. The fraternity on double probation even calls themselves the Deltas, just like in Animal House, a film that looms large over Neighbors.
The film's original title, Townies, was a much better description of the dynamic at play in the sleepy college town where the Radners have sunk all of their money into an average-looking suburban home where they hope to raise their adorable 6-month-old daughter. When the Deltas, who burned down their last frat house during a late-night elicit fireworks party, move in, Mac and Kelly try to make peace with them by offering up a joint and joining in a party, with baby monitor in tow. But after late-night revelry keeps the baby up, the couple calls the police, and a prank war predictably erupts between an increasingly unhinged Mac and increasingly sinister Teddy.
The hijinx that ensue include what must be the highest dick-joke-per-minute count of any film in recent memory, with a 3D-printed dildo being a particular highlight; drug-filled party sequences that seem influenced by Project X; and a gross-out breast milk gag. This is the kind of film that will not let the sheer stupidity of a premise stand in the way of milking a couple of gags out of it.
That being said, the film ends up being pretty entertaining on the strengths of its cast. Rogen, who also produced the picture, is doing his usual shtick, which maps surprisingly well onto a harried new father who is not quite over his wild party days. The husband/wife chemistry between Rogen and the game-for-anything Byrne is the best part of the movie that is filled with good comedic performances, including The Eric Andre Show's Hannibal Buress as a seen-it-all cop and Lisa Kudrow playing the Dean Wormer figure who makes decisions solely based on the headlines they will generate. The weakest link is Efron, who looks like he spent every second not on camera in the gym. The filmmakers wisely surround him with a cadre of funnier frat boys.
When the packed preview screening I attended was over, a woman leaned over my shoulder and said, "Tell them this movie has too many F words. It's a waste of time and electricity." She's got a point, but I suspect hers will be a minority opinion.
Opens Friday, May 9th