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'Neighbors' director Nicholas Stoller gets his third strike

Neighbors movie poster
Universal Pictures



Maybe 2014 is going to be a bad year for movies. So far the calendar has produced very few films worth mentioning. We hoped that once the summer movie season started things would pick up. However, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" was one of the worst Marvel movies since "Electra." Now we have our first comedy dud, "Neighbors" starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron.

For those who are old enough to remember, "Neighbors" is not a remake of the 1981 comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. This movie focuses on a young couple, Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Byrne) and their baby daughter who have just gotten their dream house. They are very excited when the house next door is sold until they find out that the house was bought by a college fraternity led by the frat president, Teddy Sanders (Efron). At first the neighbors get along fine, but before long "war" breaks out between the two households.

Nicholas Stoller hit comedy gold in his directorial debut in 2008 with "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", but his next two theatrical efforts, "Get Him to the Greek" and "The Five-Year Engagement" have failed to even come close to the laugh level and heart of his first movie. There are some laughs in "Neighbors", but what comedy wants to be known for having "some" laughs?

Comedies really need to keep the laughs coming throughout. If ten minutes pass and the everyone in the theater is just watching your movie, then something is really wrong, but that's exactly what occurs in "Neighbors." The movie can often be described as boring and slow moving. You can almost forgive, almost, the suspension of disbelief that the Radners are the only people in the neighborhood that has a problem with the frat, but a comedy without laughs is harder to pardon. You can see how Stroller sets up some jokes and know when he delivers the punch line, but those are usually met with a mild chuckle at best.

While Seth Rogen is the comedy star of the movie, it is Rose Byrne and Zac Efron who deserve the higher accolades in this case. Byrne had a small, but hilarious role in Greek, but seriously lets it all hang out in "Neighbors." She is responsible for some of the big laughs that do come out of this movie. Zac Efron is a mystery. When he is the star of a movie, like earlier this year with "That Awkward Moment", he really stiffens up and is unable to properly carry a movie. When he is the co-star and the pressure is not on him as much, as he showed in "New Years' Eve", he appears much more relaxed and can deliver a good performance.

Another failing on Nicholas Stroller's part is he fails to give the audience someone to root for in the movie. Part of the reason we all end up just "watching" this movie rather than laughing along with it is that we have no one to cheer on between the frat or Mac and Kelly. One of the plot points that make a movie like this work is that you like when your side "is winning." Here, we just see the family win some battles and the frat win some others without really caring about either side. It appears that Stroller tries to establish that near the end, but by that time it is too late and he is unsuccessful in his efforts to establish that.

The good news is it can only get better from here regarding the summer movies, right? We can only hope. There are a slew of other comedies coming and some of them have to be funnier than this movie. If not, it is going to be a long number of months until the fall arrives. "Neighbors" is rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout.

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