Bad Neighbours review
Seth Rogen faces off against Zac Efron in this neighbourly comedy. Here's Seb's review...
If you happen to have been born in the same year as Seth Rogen, as this correspondent was, then it’s somewhat disconcerting to see him cast on the older side in a generational-gap comedy. This can’t be right, surely? Rogen shouldn’t be the family man getting annoyed at all these youngsters making noise and causing chaos: he should be the youngster making noise and causing chaos, dammit!
As it happens, this exact question is at the very centre of Bad Neighbours (renamed over here from its US title Neighbors, for obvious Australian-soap-confusion-avoidance reasons) – as it is, in part, a surprisingly canny exploration of what happens to the generation that simply refuses to grow up when real life does actually start to catch up with it. Rogen and screen wife Rose Byrne are torn between wanting to be responsible, grown-up parents to their newborn daughter, and still wanting to kick back and have the sort of good time that their new frat-house neighbours are living twenty-four seven.
Indeed, putting the type of character Rogen excels at – and Bad Neighbours‘ Mac might as well have “Archetype” as his middle name – into this type of story actually makes the conflict between the two sets of neighbours more interesting than if their natural inclination was to be opposed. In fact, when the boys move in next door, Mac and Kelly are more keen to be seen as “cool” by the youngsters than they are worried by the possibility of noise and disruption. Their actions in the early part of the film are actually key to ensuring that sympathies aren’t wholly with them as the conflict unfolds: in truth, there’s plenty that they actually bring on themselves.
For all of that, Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s first feature script, in the reasonably safe hands of Nicholas Forgetting Sarah Marshall Stoller, isn’t entirely sure-footed – it goes for easy gross-out jokes a few times too often, and undersells the majority of a strong supporting cast (Chris Mintz-Plasse and Submarine‘s Craig Roberts are somewhat wasted, although there’s an excellent couple-of-scenes cameo from Lisa Kudrow, making you wonder why she doesn’t get more of this kind of stuff these days). The plot, too, is perhaps just a little too heavy on contrivances, especially as the conflict between the two sides escalates into increasing ludicrousness.
But it does deliver laughs with a pretty solid regularity (including one absolutely sublime moment of slapstick that you simply won’t see coming), and its greatest strength is perhaps its most surprising: that is, the chemistry between Rogen and Zac Efron. All of a sudden, Channing Tatum has a bit of competition in the “rock hard abs allied to surprisingly strong comedic chops” stakes, and in Efron it comes from the unlikeliest of sources. He’s playing a difficult character – he is, essentially, the “villain” – but still manages to find a way into the audience’s sympathy.
Indeed, the only downside of the fact that the film’s plot places Rogen and Efron in opposition is that they’re so much more fun as a buddy duo in the earlier stages – with a The Trip-esque face-off of cross-generational Batman impersonations a particular highlight. It’s the sort of thing that means that what could have come off as little more than a needly and slightly cynical gross-out comedy actually – in line with Stoller’s previous work – has more charm than expected, and it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if these two got to actually be friends for an entire movie in future. Good Neighbours sequel, perhaps?
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