Even more so than its recent forebears (and this is saying something), the new comedy film "Neighbors" is all about the riff. With Seth Rogen taking center stage, that's not such a bad thing: a steady flow of one-liners improves the odds for laughs.
Representing for the frat house are its president, dumb party animal Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), and vice president, the studious, going-places Pete (Dave Franco). If Pete is motivated by letting off some steam between exams, Teddy is all about achieving his legacy through some legendary party, as yet undreamed of, to be remembered for decades to come, and both value brotherhood. With their potential for harshing the party vibe, the Radners quickly become Delta Psi Beta's natural enemies, to be outmaneuvered at every turn.
What follows is something akin to "The War of the Roses" (though it could do with a bit more of that film's savage satire). Though the rest of the neighbors are only glimpsed, the conflict between the Radners and Delta Psi Beta makes an effective microcosm for local politics at the neighborhood level, where selfish interests, petty though they may be, take on outsized proportions. Accountant Mac and stay-at-home mom Kelly need their sleep, as does their growing child, but the frat, with "I've gotta be me" attitude and bass-heavy music, can't not party all the time.
Rogen essentially plays himself (which he's proven good at), while Byrne comically unleashes femme fatality as but one weapon in her Machiavellian arsenal. The best, and funniest, part of "Neighbors" is its refusal to shunt Kelly to the sideline, and there's a hilarious, postmodern argument between the marrieds about their correspondence to film and TV stereotypes, wherein Mac defensively complains that Kelly is filling his comfortable role of low expectations for men: "Haven't you seen a Kevin James movie?"
Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien's screenplay is smart enough to humanize Teddy a little (as the senior belatedly realizes he has squandered his chance to learn anything that might serve him outside of a frat house) and to own up to the Radners' transgressive selfishness (while still excusing them as just-folks in the end). Nimble performances by the likeable top-billed foursome go a long way to making the anemic story feel satisfying. It's all very larky and goofy, and if you can meet "Neighbors" in that place (and assuming you have a tolerance for raunchy, R-rated comedy), you can get a nice buzz off of it.
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