What happens when a relationship comedy meets “Animal House”? Not as much as you’d think, although “Neighbors” is frantic enough to leave the impression a lot is happening.
The movie begins with new parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne, from “Bridesmaids”) pondering how their lives have changed since having a baby. Before they can really explore the issue, a fraternity house moves in next door.
This glitch in the zoning laws ushers in a nightmarish phase. The boys next door are up all night with loud music and partying. This is doubly annoying because it reminds Mac and Kelly of their lost youth.
First the parents try to make nice with their neighbors, which leads to the movie’s funniest sustained sequence, a night of blowing off steam. But a nasty rivalry sets in shortly thereafter.
Their chief tormentor is Teddy (Zac Efron), the frat president. Efron always seems just a little behind the comic beat, although he does come to life for a couple of surreal bro-bonding scenes with his second-in-command (super-focused Dave Franco, brother of James).
You sometimes get the feeling director Nicholas Stoller, who made a nice debut with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” would prefer to stay with Mac and Kelly’s somewhat realistic marital problems. But even these scenes tend to fritter away in the spectacle of Seth Rogen’s need to stand around and riff on bodily functions and sex organs.
There’s a lot of that. “Neighbors” wants to be naughty, and the raunchiness qualifies the film for its R rating a few times over. Like so many current comedies, this one obsesses over male genitalia. It’s enough to make one nostalgic for shallow, ‘80s-style T&A. Almost.
Beyond Byrne’s strenuous efforts to act like one of the boys, the women in the movie are complete ciphers. Even usually-reliable sidekick roles don’t register strongly, here distributed among the likes of Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
All of this moves along quickly, which is some kind of blessing. But as crisp as the editing is, the whole thing feels sloppy—you sense there’s a raft of cut scenes, full of improvisation, that will undoubtedly end up on the DVD and explain why we see so little footage of some name actors in this version.
Not that it makes much difference. “Neighbors” seems pulled in so many directions it rarely builds a head of steam. Now if you kids could possibly keep it down, some of us are trying to sleep.
“Neighbors” (one and a half stars)
New parents Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne must deal with the fraternity house that moves in next door. The movie sprints along in frantic fashion, but the jokes are raunchy and familiar, and frat president Zac Efron lags behind the comedy beat.
Rating: R, for nudity, language, subject matter
Opening: Friday at Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.