Neighbors: Raunchy Comedy About Boys and One Woman

There are only several new ideas or inventive gags in Nicholas Stoller’s raunchy comedy, which posits two iconic performers of their respective generations, the gifted, loud-mouth comedian Seth Rogen and the handsome (pumped-up) heartthrob Zac Efron.

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The premise of this rude comedy lends itself to some hearty if predictable (and often silly) laughs.  Like most studio comedies these days, Neighbors is a high-concept film, which can be summed up in one sentence.  A fraternity led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco wages war on their next door married couple (played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne).

Since it’s a largely a guy’s comedy, rest assure that there are gross-out jokes about penises and breasts.  Upping the ante, “Neighbors” goes all out with its display of sex toys, showing objects of pleasuredom of any imaginable size, shape, or color.

But is you listen and look carefully, below the surface lies a more serious film about growing up and the fears and anxieties that go along with mature adulthood.

By now director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement) has developed efficient skills at moving things along at a brisk pace.  And you can’t blame Stoller with having to direct what is at best a second-rate script, credited to Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, who have constructed largely cartoonish characters, lacking depth or feeling.

What may be new is the role of the wife, Kelly, who against all odds comes across as an original creation.  She is not just the shrill, disapproving nagging wife who snaps her husband Mac to stop behaving like a child.  And ultimately, Neighbors may be remembered as the film in which the talented TV performer Rose Byrne (“Damages”) has come into her own as an interesting big-screen actress.

In the course of the picture, Kelly shows that she is a good sport and can wreak havoc just as her boyish counterparts. Far from playing the stereotypical part of a full time mom who used to be a career woman, Kelly finds all kinds of ideas to pass her boring time, and in the process entertain herself and us.  Just watch the wit and facility with which she tricks one of the frat boys to make out with his best friend’s girlfriend.  This was the only surprising element for me, because you don’t expect a Judd Apatow-like comedy to do much for its female characters.

At this juncture of his career, Rogen plays yet another variation of the Rogen screen type, and it’s about time that a good writer comes up for a different kind of role so that he can stretch as an actor.