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Funny But Familiar Trip to Frat House in ‘Neighbors’

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CHICAGO – I have a high tolerance for Seth Rogen, but he begins to show some signs of creative exhaustion in “Neighbors,” a raunchy frat house comedy that’s never quite as funny as it should be. Rogen’s onscreen persona here comes dangerously close to schtick.

Rogen and Rose Byrne are new parents who are trying to find some time for themselves again while figuring out how to raise their new baby daughter. Their lives get even more complicated when a frat house led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco moves in right next door. Eager to show they haven’t lost their “hip” factor, the new parents try to ingratiate themselves with the college kids next door. But after some initial bonding over psychedelic mushrooms the relationship turns sour when the frat’s late night antics wake up the baby, Rogen calls the cops and both sides declare war.

Zac Effon, Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne
Teddy (Zac Effon) Confers with Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) in ‘Neighbors’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Rogen’s on-screen patterns have now become intimately familiar to even casual fans. He will be exasperated, he will yell, he will smoke weed and look quizzically while dropping his quips, and he will laugh that distinctive laugh. This still works in his role as the new father, but the gags and quips themselves just aren’t as fresh as they once were. I laughed, but I also had the dull nagging sensation that I had seen this act one too many times before and it may be time for something new.

Since “Bridesmaids,” Byrne has been getting more of a chance to show her ample comic chops and she proves herself game for almost anything here. She has an anything-for-a-laugh enthusiasm, while maintaining a center grounded in human nature that makes her laughs feel earned instead of cheap. Since this comes from the Judd Apatow factory of fine products she also gets the movie’s one big gross out gag. It’s really more gross than laugh out loud funny, but it is memorable and shows a willingness to push the boundaries. That’s more than I can say for any other comedy this year.

Director Nicholas Stoller shows a sure hand with this material, but former Apatow underlings turned screenwriters Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien are a bit shakier with the screenplay. They long for the Apatow sweet spot between sentimentality and raunch, but don’t always hit their mark. The family related comedy bits actually hit their targets far more than their standard issue frat house gags. Part of that may be due to co-star Zac Efron. He’s improving as a comedian, but his blank eyed male model stare isn’t always the best look when trying to elicit laughs. Meanwhile, Dave Franco seems to be earning a “Billy Baldwin” like career as the second best famous sibling available. He’s serviceable here, but doesn’t quite have the gonzo x-factor of his more eclectic brother. The rest of the cast doesn’t make much of an impression, except for Chicago comic Hannibal Buress, who steals every scene in a small but enjoyable role.

Zac Effon, Dave Franco
Frat Brothers Teddy and Pete (Dave Franco) in ‘Neighbors’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The movie has some individual funny scenes, but can’t sustain its momentum. It only really has enough ideas to fill about two thirds of its running time. It seems to be coasting on fumes during its third act which makes it feel longer than its relatively short 96 minutes. But I think I’ve found how to give Rogen a new spin on his character as he moves through his 30’s and beyond. In due time he just might become the second coming of Walter Matthau. Get ready in about 20 years for Rogen and James Franco in a “Grumpy Old Men” reboot. It’s not as crazy as you might think.

“Neighbors” opens everywhere on May 9th. Featuring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Effron, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien. Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com contributor Spike Walters

By SPIKE WALTERS
Contributor
HollywoodChicago.com
spike@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2014 Spike Walters, HollywoodChicago.com

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