Every adult knows how quickly a petty feud with a neighbor can escalate, and in the raucous comedy Neighbors, Seth Rogen and company strive to take that concept to hilarious extremes. Loud, raunchy, and even awkwardly endearing at times, this piecemeal movie reeks of improv run amuck, but unlike Rogen's previous anything-goes hit, This Is the End, Neighbors isn't blessed with the comedic material to sustain that approach with any real consistency.
Restless thirtysomethings Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) are still clinging to the last vestiges of their youth as they attempt to adjust to the rigors of raising a newborn in their picturesque suburban starter home. When a massive moving truck pulls into the driveway next door, the bleary-eyed pair grow excited at the prospect of getting new neighbors. Unfortunately for Mac and Kelly, the new arrivals turn out to be the Delta Psi Beta fraternity. Even so, the couple remain convinced that they still have a modicum of cool left in them, extending a hearty greeting to popular chapter president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and hoping for the best. A few epic parties later, however, and Mac and Kelly have had more than their fill of the frat's wild antics. Before long the gloves have come off, and a turf war erupts between the parents who only want a solid night's sleep and the Greeks who crank up the stereo until the crack of dawn. Who will win is anyone's guess, but one thing's for sure -- this neighborhood isn't big enough for the both of them.
The naivety of new parents has long been fodder for Hollywood comedies, yet few screenwriters have managed to capture the exhausted mixture of elation and frustration that nurturing a newborn represents quite like Brendan O'Brien and Andrew Cohen do in the early scenes of Neighbors. Like many young couples who decide to start a family, Mac and Kelly haven't quite grasped the fact that life as they once knew it is over. Their Herculean struggles to recapture their spark of spontaneity are played to overwhelmed perfection by Rogen and Byrne, but when the story needs to progress, O'Brien and Cohen trade cautionary satire for comedic one-upmanship.
From this point on, Neighbors becomes a loosely plotted farce that revels in debauchery, and much like the film's overarching sentiment about the unpredictable ways we act out during times of transition and uncertainty, it seems that the writers felt content to simply lob vaguely humorous concepts at the audience rather than actually take the time to explore their comedic fallout (such as when Mac eats enough psilocybin mushrooms to incapacitate the entire fraternity, but doesn't so much as slur a word). Sure, in a high-concept comedy like Neighbors, the point is to get to the feud as quickly as possible, but the filmmakers frequently mistake casual vulgarity for wit. As a result, the scenarios often fall flat, despite the performers' best efforts to tack on a clever punch line.
Even once the war gets under way, precious few of the pranks display the inspiration of even a forgettable Jackass episode, and at one particular low point, desperate frat leader Teddy's long-game threat to the couple's daughter feels downright creepy. Even so, director Nicholas Stoller and cinematographer Brandon Trost strive to give the film some stylistic flair (especially during the frat-party scenes), but like the writing, it's too inconsistent to have any real impact. In the end, Neighbors is one of those disappointing comedies that was probably more fun to make than it is to watch.