Bad Neighbours (or just Neighbors, as it was originally titled in America) is one of those all-too-common cinema releases, a comedy that packs all of the best bits into the trailer. And, as is also all-too-common, it's all the more frustrating because it had the potential to be so much better.
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly Radner, a pair of adults who are trying to hang on to their youth and spontaneity. Viewers know this from the very first scene, which shows the couple trying to have some fun, spicy sex while the blissfully ignorant gaze of their baby daughter proves to be too off-putting. Perhaps the two will just have to accept that their adults now, with all of the responsibilities that entails. In fact, they have to act like real adults when the house next door to them is turned into a fraternity house (led by Zac Efron, as Teddy, and Dave Franco, as Pete). Mac and Kelly initially try to be cool, and even join the youngsters at their first big party, but it's not long until they realise that they have to do whatever it takes to ensure that the parties don't carry on. Teddy and Pete, of course, will do whatever it takes to keep the music loud and the alcohol flowing, and so begins a battle of wills.
Director Nicholas Stoller makes Bad Neighbours very much a party movie. There are loud tunes, neon-infused moments of drunken dizziness, and scenes that focus on general shenanigans. "Isn't this fun?" it seems to say. But those moments jar when the tone shifts, when it becomes clear that it's not as fun as it looks, when it's all about people partying or fighting because they don't know what else to do to reassure themselves of their position in life.
The blame lies squarely with writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, who just don't seem to be able to navigate the territory that they themselves laid out. Being unsure about how to mix the laughs with the darker moments wouldn't be so bad if the laughs were funny enough, but they're not. Instead, we get a lot of typical Rogen lines from Rogen, and lots of juvenile gags about penises. I like Rogen, but his character in this movie really needed to be more removed from his usual persona, and it isn't.
When it comes to his performance, Rogen is fine. If you like Rogen (which I do). Rose Byrne is also fine, although she's not treated as well by the script. Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo create some laughs as their friends, a couple now separated from one another, which makes for some obvious friction when they have to be in the same space. Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Halston Sage, and Craig Roberts also do just fine in their range of roles; a well-endowed frat member, the girlfriend of Teddy, and a poor, bullied lad nicknamed Assjuice. The worst person onscreen here is Zac Efron, which shows how badly his character is written.
I like Zac Efron, I really do. In fact, if it was anyone else in the role that he has in this movie then the whole film would rate even lower. He manages to improve things slightly thanks to his charisma and, well, sheer force of will. But this role may be the worst that he's ever been handed in his career, so far. He's the antagonist, but he's also given too little depth too late in the proceedings as the writers try to layer the whole film with some meaning that isn't required. This is a film in which the funniest moments include the misappropriation of airbags. Okay, comedies can be layered with drama, but when things are shoehorned in as clumsily as they are here . . . . . . . . it just doesn't work out.
I wanted to enjoy this movie. I'm often a sucker when it comes to any cinema experience. Despite my years of experience, and disappointment, I still watch a well-edited trailer and think "yes, can't wait to see that". And, as many people know, I am easily pleased. It would have only taken one BIG laugh, or a better balancing act between the comedy and the slightly darker undercurrent, and I would have at least thought of this as a worthwhile way to pass some time. Sadly, that wasn't the case.