Neighbors is a hit and miss comedy from director Nicholas Stoller starring Seth Rogen in his typical improv heavy referential mode, but one of the nice things about it is the relative brevity involved. When the jokes are hit and miss, but the movie is nonetheless fast-paced and comes in at 90 minutes (a rarity for anything associated with the Apatow crew) you can forgive a lot of the stuff that doesn't work, because you're being fairly entertained throughout and quickly at that.
Of course, if the movie also has a problem staying in your mind for any length of time after you've seen it (I think its lasting power with me was maybe 15 minutes) it may not be worth a repeat trip, but I do recall laughing at a few moments along the way. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are thirtysomething couple Mac and Kelly who we are quickly introduced to when they're trying and failing to have sex "spontaneously" without the new baby getting too corrupted by what she might see and yet not understand, as Kelly argues to no avail with the skeptical Mac. We then observe how they are at the point in life where they're trying to settle into being that "old couple" with a kid, a house and responsibilities that necessitate leaving the partying ways of their youth behind, and neither is particularly okay with it yet, scared of becoming boring and bored by the status quo that's starting to shape out. This is exacerbated when a fraternity led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco move in next door, which at first tempts them to try to get along with the guys to retain their youth.
The two are invited into a rager (Kelly brings the baby monitor with them, so I guess it's ok that poor infant Stella is left alone all night multiple times in this movie) and at first have a great time, but then when the noise continues for days on end, resort to calling the police for the sake of the baby they occasionally are concerned about. This leads to all out war between them and the frat, as one prank escalates to another as Mac and Kelly try to get them kicked out however they can manage it. That may seem like a lot of setup, but trust me, all of that only takes about 10 minutes before the war starts, and from that point on it rides the same joke pretty much into the ground until the movie's end. And as I said, some of the scenes are good (I liked when they pay a tortured freshman pledge to wear camera sunglasses into the frat) and some are just stupid, like the guys stuffing air bags into Mac's work place desk chair that sends him flying into the ceiling with some really cheap CGI effects that are deployed three times and are distractingly awful each time.
Seth Rogen brings his usual, pop culture obsessed, riff-heavy self to play here, and I'll admit I've always enjoyed his everyman persona, but once again this crew falls down in terms of developing the female character. Rose Byrne is fine in the movie, and clearly they wanted to draw her into the proceedings by making her a participant in the prank battles, but instead of giving her a personality of her own, what they've done is turn her into the ultimate cheerleader for her hubbie, parroting everything he says and nodding along to all his plans, so that the clear implication is that the perfect wife for any of the schlubby Apatow gang is a non-nagging woman who likes everything they like without the slightest deviation or individuality of self. Ugh. As for the frat guys, Dave Franco continues to be a winning and charismatic presence on screen in these movies (could he possibly turn out to be the greater Franco?) while the sculpted Ken doll that is Zac Efron makes the perfect fraternity president who always seems to be giving off a slightly psycho vibe in the intense stares thrown at every peripheral character on the screen.
The movie leaves reality behind pretty fast, as it makes no sense to leave the baby alone all the time, or that literally no one else in the neighborhood is bothered by the all night ragers at the frat house. Sometimes in these one joke premise movies, it might be better just to jettison reality entirely and escalate to full on farce or black comedy, like Animal House or There's Something About Mary, which both reached further for bigger laughs altogether. But this one wants to maintain that lesson about maturity in the end, which feels a little tacked on and prevents it from reaching the delirious heights of those other comedy classics. Still, it's good for some amusing chuckles and it's over in swift fashion- just don't expect to bust a gut or anything.
* * 1/2