Movie review: Comedy of “Neighbors” aimed at bros it lampoons

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From the May 8, 2014 edition

It’s been 10 years since Todd Phillips’ “Old School” ushered in a new wave of raunchy manchild comedies, a decade which saw the rise of Judd Apatow, who directed and/or produced some really funny, surprisingly sweet stuff.

“Neighbors” is the bastard child of frat-house comedies like “Old School” and midlife crisis comedies like “This Is 40.” It’s successfully raunchy, sporadically funny and seldom sweet.

The fact that it boasts a bunch of Apatow veterans only magnifies its misfires, most of which can be blamed on a script aimed too squarely at bros. Bros, if you’re reading this, you are gonna love this movie.

Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are new parents and new homeowners. They’re trying to get the hang of adulthood, even if Mac still blazes up with his buddy Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) at work and Kelly considers taking their infant daughter to a rave in lieu of a babysitter.

Their mature/immature dynamic gets pulled in both directions when a displaced fraternity moves in to the house next door. They try a little good cop/bad cop with frat president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), joining in on some partying — apparently it’s OK for a parent to be on shrooms as long as the baby monitor is still on — before sparking a full-blown neighbor war.

“Neighbors” is gleefully raunchy — first-time feature writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien apparently never met a boner joke they didn’t like — but that shouldn’t be confused with funny. Most of the laughs in the clunky setup appear to come from Rogen ad-libs, and the biggest laughs of the whole film are of the “fall down, go boom” variety.

Rogen gives it the old college try, and Byrne (“Bridesmaids”) continues to be great when she does comedy, but director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) just strings together gags from the raunchy prank war.

Dumb comedies are fine, but the transcendent dumb comedies have a sly smart streak. “Neighbors” will appeal to the party bros it makes fun of, but the comedy is too hit-and-miss to overlook its lack of heart.