'Neighbors' review: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron wage laugh-filled war

Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in

Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in "Neighbors" (Handout photo)

Rating

3.5 Stars3.5/5

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:22 PM ET

As you can gather from the trailers, Neighbors – in which new parents go to war with the fraternity next door – is a pretty anarchic comedy, Animal House turned sideways.

But like his earlier Get Him to the Greek, there’s a heart and subtext to Nicholas Stoller’s gross-out romp that eventually crawls its way up through a mountain of hard-partying slapstick.

Whether you’re receptive to its sentimental side or not, there are some pretty hilarious set pieces in this comedy that features arguably the best performances ever by Rose Byrne and Zac Efron. Yes, I said Zac Efron.

And no, not all of the funniest bits were spoiled in the aforementioned trailers. There are plenty more. Many involve bodily fluids.

At its heart, Neighbors is all about the refusal to accept age. Rogen and Byrne play Mac and Kelly, young marrieds who deny they’ve been domesticated, even as they become slaves to a baby monitor.

The acid test of their denial comes in the first scene, wherein they agree to bring their baby to a rave. Their failure to live up to their boast is like a eulogy for their perceived coolness.

And then the guys from Delta Psi move in (a not-so-subliminal nod to Delta House – you will also hear the term “double probation” uttered), offering up another chance for Mac and Kelly to play at being party kids. The frat president Teddy (Zac Efron) sizes them up shrewdly and exploits their longing for fun as a way of neutralizing the domestic threat.

It’s all a little more psychologically deep-seated, even dark, than you expect, and Teddy has issues of his own. While playing someone who’s outwardly not that book-smart, Efron brings a surprising commitment to the tightly-wound Teddy, a character who probably wasn’t much more than a caricature on the page.

Where Mac’s reaction to the partying next door is of the male-posturing I-can-do-more-mushrooms-and-shots-than-you variety (right in Rogen’s wheelhouse), Byrne smoothly turns Kelly into a post-partum bundle of anxiety, stressing over her lost youth. Smarter than her husband or the frat boys, there are moments when she steals the movie with style.

But again, you can feel free to ignore Neighbors’ subtext in favour of the will-the-frat-lose-its-charter chain of disasters. It’s reflective of the aging of the audience that the underdogs in this movie are the thirtysomething “old people.” Life experience beats brute strength kid, and don’t you forget it.

The comedy in Neighbors is broad at the best of times. This is a movie that gets laughs out of the physical contrast between flabby Rogen and buff Efron, whether in a dance-off or standing together in front of a male strip joint with their shirts off.

Subtle it’s not. But the laughs are real.

Twitter: @jimslotek

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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