Friday, February 23, 2018

Review: 'Neighbors' a raunchy romp, plus Zac Efron

Neighbors just misses making the honor roll of frat flicks, an exclusive list considering how few great comedies have been made about high, horny college kids. Actually, there's National Lampoon's Animal House and that's about it. Short list; tough to crack.

Nicholas Stoller's rambunctious comedy gives it the old college try, with an uncivil war between a fraternity of lewd, crude marauders — another Delta house, of course — and the nebbish couple next door, who already has a tough time sleeping with a toddler in the house. Or doing anything, ahem, intimate, as a tone-setting opener reveals. A slim premise is carried to lunatic extremes by Stoller, who also made Forgetting Sarah Marshall something to remember.

Seth Rogen is in this movie, and it's a sign of our times (or at least Neighbors) that someone so closely linked to pot smoke and smut humor plays the regular guy here. Rogen's Mac Radner used to party but that's in the past, with the responsibilities of caring for wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) and their infant daughter, Stella. Mac's decadent urges resurface when the new neighbors move in, a fraternity prone to vice-ridden raves all day and night.

Mac and Kelly need quiet but don't wish to appear uncool asking for it. They're too young to act like fogeys, yet too old and responsible to keep up as they once could. Meanwhile, fraternity president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) needs to face that chiseled abs and dimples won't be his ticket through life. There's a subtle wisdom to this screenplay that complements its exceedingly bad taste, small lessons among the laughs.

But that makes Neighbors sound less raucous, raunchy and unrepentant than it is. A handful of sequences — none describable in a newspaper distributed in high schools — spark the sort of convulsive laughter drowning out ensuing jokes. Bodily fluids, filthy banter, sex toys, drug delirium, all the modern comedy reliables are here. Just smarter and saucier, seldom dragging down momentum Stoller establishes from the get-go.

The performances are spot-on, especially Efron's self-centered Teddy, whose mission is to graduate as a historic party animal, and Dave Franco as his vice president and vaguely closeted friend. Other roles, especially Ike Barinholtz as Mac's co-worker and accomplice, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a Delta sex freak, seem to leave key elements in the editing room. Whatever it took for Stoller to stay around the 90-minute running time such lowbrow comedies deserve is fine with me.

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