"Neighbors" has all the markings of a quality comedy, including excellent chemistry between its leads, a demented Zac Efron, over-the-top stunts involving sex toys and satirical suburban malaise.
The reason "Neighbors" ultimately comes up short is simple: It's just not that funny. And when laughs do break through, they're mostly of an empty, simplistic variety, hardly underwritten by a larger, cogent vision.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly, parents to an adorable baby whose life of suburban bliss is rudely interrupted when a fraternity moves next door, bringing their raucous all-night ragers with them.
The frat is led by Teddy Sanders (Efron), a hollow-eyed psycho with rippling abs, and sycophantic No. 2 Pete (Dave Franco).
Mac and Kelly try to charm their neighbors, but a desperate phone call to the cops on a sleepless night serves as the first shot in what becomes an all-out war of attrition.
Director Nicholas Stoller, working from a screenplay by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, sympathizes with the young couple and their counterparts. Some people just want peace and quiet, others want to party and we should all just get along. There are some great character moments hidden among the hijinks. Again, the actors are first-rate.
But by the time an air bag lifted from Rogen's car propels him into the ceiling at work -- an event showcased in every ad for the picture -- it's quite apparent that the movie only really cares about those stunts. It's a series of amusing sketches interspersed with frat party scenes marked by throbbing music and kinetic visuals, shot like the worst '90s music video you never saw on MTV.
The movie could be read as an evocation of the pangs of lost youth on one hand and the terrible sense that the best years of your life are winding down on the other. But it's halfhearted at best. The frat scenes seems so unappealing compared to Rogen's life with Byrne and his baby that it's just not a fair fight.
Look, reviewing a movie like "Neighbors" is a bit of a fool's errand. Each viewer has a different standard of funny and sometimes a relatively mindless slapstick comedy hits home.
With such talent involved here, though, it's fair to expect something more.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller | Starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco | Rated R