“Neighbors” somehow managed to make an audience full of New York City liberals laugh at a rape joke. If that isn't a work of sorcery I don't know what is.
Don't get me wrong – it is a “punching up” joke, really a joke about the type of person who would make a rape joke – but it is still a rape joke, a storytelling divide-by-zero that only the most nimble comedy professionals would dare. Seth Rogen, Ike Barinholtz and Rose Byrne are just that good, as are director Nicholas Stoller, at his best here, and relative newcomer writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien. “Neighbors” could have been a raunch comedy (and some if it is a little blue) but it is sharp, clever and, thanks mostly to Rogen and Byrne, it has loads of heart. You'll laugh if you're young, you'll laugh if you're old.
Rogen and Byrne are just now realizing that they fit more in that second camp. They have a kid, relative job stability and they just want quiet. They live in the same town as their (unnamed) alma mater and just put all their money into a house. They really want a gay couple to move in next door – well, either that or a Taco Bell – but their hopes are dashed when in comes a frat.
Yeah, it's a little far-fetched, but a crazy, beer pong-playing, cannabis-huffing, shirt-averse group of Type-A bros and their squealing hotties move in and bring their slo-motion, hip-hop blasting montages of bad behavior with them. Thus begins a Coyote and Roadrunner escalation of hijinks, mostly between Rogen and the leader of Delta Psi Omicron (I may have the letters wrong) played by Zac Efron.
In Efron, Rogen sees an idealized version of his partying past. In Rogen, Efron sees the defeat of the lame future that awaits. It is implied that the local school is not exactly Princeton, as the Dean (Lisa Kudrow, in a hilarious small role) is more concerned with tabloid headlines than actual education.
“Neighbors” is really just a string of set pieces. They range from funny to REALLY stinkin' funny. The movie is just a tad over 90 minutes, and that's just fine. You can tell that there was an initial, longer cut. Some jokes seem to reference things we never saw, or seem to be a set-up for a different punchline. There are instances that feel like a callback but all that's in its place now is “SCENE MISSING.” (A lot of this revolves around Christopher Mintz-Plasse's character. It may be time to start cutting that guy from casting sheets entirely.) Luckily, this doesn't matter too much. “Neighbors” is performance-based comedy, and it doesn't have to be a Swiss watch of screenwriting craft. Heck, during a key argument, Rogen lays it right out to Rose Byrne: “Haven't you seen any Kevin James movies?!?! I'm Kevin James!”
But he isn't Kevin James. He's far better. He exudes likeability and the relationship jokes, worn out though they may be (new parents don't have time for sex? You don't say!) still land. “Neighbors”' attitude is “gags first, life lessons second” – making this far superior entertainment to the thematically similar “This is 40.” But mixed in with the scattered mayhem there's just enough emotion to make this a nice addition to the neighborhood.