Seth Rogen is still everybody's favorite stoner; it's just that now he's an old stoner. In the raucous R-rated comedy Neighbors, Rogen's character gives in to the phony domesticated bliss that we see guys like Kevin James (name-checked in the movie, too!) enjoy in lousy network sitcoms. He's got a great wife played by Rose Byrne who is out of his league, a crappy job, a beautiful newborn child, and a hefty mortgage to contend with. But that urge to light up a fatty is still there, and that dichotomy of the responsible parent who also wants to be one of the guys is what keeps Neighbors interesting even as the puerile jokes run out of gas.
Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) have just blown their entire savings on a new home in a seemingly perfect suburban neighborhood. They're young, not too far removed from their party hearty days, but now that they've had a daughter the pull of boring domestication is strong. So they feebly try to hang on to their youth with "spontaneous" sex (which the baby ruins), smoking a blunt on occasion (sometimes at work), and planning to go to raves with their friends. It doesn't happen, but the plan was sound. It's a limbo time for them because neither wants to be all dull and old and stuff. Who does?
They're snapped into focus with the arrival of new neighbors, the rowdy dudes of fraternity Delta Psi Beta. At the head of this toga party bound-to-happen is Teddy (Zac Efron), a chiseled stud Mac breathlessly describes as "something a gay guy designed in a laboratory." With his loyal co-prez Pete (Dave Franco) and a veritable army of fast-livin' fraternity brothers at his disposal, Teddy plans to throw a rager worthy of going up in the Hall of Fame. In a pitiful attempt to look cool and hopefully convince the guys to keep the music down, Mac and Kelly make a sticky green peace offering, then hang out at one of the frat's all-night blow outs. Shot with ultraviolet energy by Nicholas Stoller, the party scenes are an absolute blast. It doesn't hurt that Rogen gets to act like a clown in them, emphasizing his oafish appearance in contrast to Efron. Ultimately, an agreement is made that if the noise gets unbearable, call the frat first rather than the cops. But when that plan goes up in smoke (pun intended!) and the cops are brought into the situation, Teddy feels betrayed and sets about making Mac and Kelly's lives miserable.
The turf war that erupts between this square couple and a bunch of overzealous dudes is more fun than a thousand beer pong matches, at least initially. The jokes, of which there are tons and many of them land like a punch to the jaw, consist of denigrating the yard bushes, exploding whoopee cushions, busted water pipes, and used condoms in the front lawn. There's even an attempt by Mac and Kelly to get the frat suspended by appealing to the university's image-conscious dean, played with blasé attitude by Lisa Kudrow. It's all innocent and largely harmless shenanigans until things escalate a little too far out of control, and this is when screenwriters Andrew Cohen and Brendan O'Brien lose their way. Things take a turn for the dark side when Mac and Kelly actively set up Teddy's girlfriend to cheat on him, which leads to Teddy taking glee in their marital turmoil later on. There's nothing funny about that at all, nor is Teddy's later comments about "watching" their young daughter grow up into a woman. As the violence goes from comedic to ugly, Neighbors begins to resemble an entirely different movie, and one this viewer was not especially into. I signed up for Neighbors, not Lakeview Terrace.
But when this film is on it's an absolute riot of juvenile, mildly-offensive gags with laughs coming a mile a minute. While we've all probably seen the De Niro impersonation scene a thousand times already in TV spots and trailers, it's much funnier in full context, and bit players like Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Carla Gallo, and Ike Barinholz hit the mark. In a way this feels like a coming out party for Efron who has never been asked to carry the comedic load like this before. His Teddy is a snot-nosed punk, but one with a touch of complexity. And hopefully this will be the film that finally earns Rose Byrne the attention she has so long deserved. If it wasn't already obvious after Bridesmaids that she is one of today's funniest women alive then Neighbors proves she is a true showstopper. She adds gravitas to a role that could have been overshadowed by Rogen's goofy antics, but instead it's her who gives a towering comedic performance.
So what you have is the old couple trying to recapture their youthful vigor, Teddy who sees in them what could be his future. There isn't a ton of time spent on this dynamic but it's enough, and told with enough honesty to be relevant. Most of the work is done by Rogen and Efron in the way their characters interact with one another non-verbally. It's clear right away that Mac sees Teddy as the guy he wishes he was back in college. Not that you'll come to Neighbors for poignant insight on growing up. It isn't straining to be much, but as a "bros before hos" flick with a ton of laughs, Neighbors gets a passing grade.