Comedies centered on rivalries can be really hit and miss. When done right, they can produce some wonderful characters and comedic situations. When done wrong, we get the lamest, broadest drivel imaginable that would even make a midseason replacement sitcom cringe. The fact that all of these movies inevitably end with a happy resolution between the two feuding parties doesn’t help. “Neighbors” is thankfully one of the better rivalry comedies of recent memory thanks to the well-suited leads, some solid one-liners, and the capable direction of Nicholas Stoller.
Seth Rogen stars as Mac Radner, a former party animal who has since settled down with a family and boring office job. His wife is Kelly, played by Rose Byrne who gets to use her native Australian accent for a change. The two never get out ever since welcoming a newborn baby girl into the world. Although they can’t go to any parties, the party soon comes to them when a fraternity moves in next door. At first, Mac and Kelly kind of like the frat house, taking them back to their carefree college days. As the endless nights of loud, drunken raves go on, though, they start to get fed up with the frat. In time, an all out war erupts as the neighbors attempt to make the other move.
This is where a movie like this either makes or breaks itself. The reason that “Neighbors” works better than some other comedies about petty rivalries is because the screenwriters actually derive some pretty funny material from the basic setup. The film earns its R rating with great gags concerning milking a woman’s breasts and a baby almost swallowing a condom. On top of that, the characters are a lot of fun, too.
A couple years ago, we got the sort-of sequel to “Knocked Up” with “This is 40.” “Neighbors” is a bit like an unofficial sequel to “Knocked Up,” following Rogen’s character after the birth of his child. The only difference is that Katherine Heigl has been upgraded to Byrne while Carla Gallo and Ike Barinholtz have replaced Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd as the best friends. They all have great comedic timing, although the real surprise is Zac Efron as the president of the frat house.
Efron, who has been in danger of becoming a stereotype of himself for a while, is just right to play the party animal who takes his fraternity way too seriously. The film also wisely never turns his character into a mean-spirited villain. While immature and sometimes extreme, he’s actually a charismatic guy who genuinely cares about his frat brothers, which includes Dave Franco and the artist formally known as McLovin. In addition to being a spiritual follow-up to “Knocked Up,” it’s fun to think of “Neighbors” as the spiritual successor to “High School Musical.” Who ever thought we’d one day see Troy Bolton making a mold of his penis and selling dildos?
Aside from giving the audience an excuse to laugh for an hour and a half, “Neighbors” works in some smart commentary about growing up and longing for your youthful days, too. The resolution is also a little bolder than expected. Sure, the two bad neighbors do eventually make peace. In the end, however, there is a clear winner in the grand scheme and matters never become unrealistically sentimental. Compared to all the other rivalry comedies out there, “Neighbors” is definitely a standout.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.