Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron
Thirty-something couple Mac (Rogan) and Kelly (Byrne) and their newborn baby are settling into parenthood and their new house in a quiet neighbourhood, though still trying at times to maintain their old lifestyle. However, their peaceful suburban life is about to seriously disrupted as a fraternity led by their president Teddy (Efron), moves in making the house next door their frat house. After going round to tell them to keep the noise down and ending up joining the party, Mac and Kelly get inevitably annoyed with the loud late nights and call the police, despite promising Teddy they wouldn’t. This sets in motion an all out war between the two next door neighbours descending into chaos they try to outdo the other in revenge tactics.
So, it is time again for the latest comedy starring Seth Rogen, a man not exactly the most diverse of actors – and I use both the words actor and comedy loosely when talking about his film output. At least Judd Apatow is not involved at all in this one (well, according to imdb), but that makes no difference as Bad Neighbours (or simply Neighbors in the sates, maybe because there the words ‘Ramsey’ and ‘Street’ are not quite as prominent as elsewhere) has all trademarks of a Judd Apatow, or indeed any mainstream comedy these days: A wafer thin plot that they seem to be making up as they go along, no real solid character development and essentially a series of improvised sketches of which there are multiple out-takes and often go on too long in the film anyway just to fill its bloated running time. Though Bad Neighbours is only 95 minutes, it often feels longer and I fully expect there to be an ‘extended’ and apparently ‘ruder’ version of the film on DVD featuring scenes that were cut for a good reason anyway.
That is not to say Bad Neighbours is in my view a bad film, it is a perfectly watchable and forgettable 95 minutes that contains the occasional chuckle. Indeed, comedy is very hard to review as it is so subjective and Bad Neighbours seems to have very good reviews and is doing very well at the box office (the screening I went to was very busy and everyone was surprisingly reasonably behaved). However I am sure this is a film that will be forgotten about after a while as it has absolutely no staying power and I am sure will be sitting in DVD bargain bins in a couple of years as it is just another vacuous lowest common denominator Hollywood comedy. Though if the rate of box office takings continues I would not be surprised to a sequel appear in a few years. No I don’t know how either, but the Hollywood accountants will not care about that, just demand that a money spinning sequel happens.
One of the main problems for me with the gags in Bad Neighbours, and I know I am not the first one to say this, is that as with the genre, all the best jokes are in the trailer. Some of these gags are only funny the once or work on the element of surprise (air bags!), but if we have seen them in the trailer then they are not funny when seen for the second time in the actual film. So maybe there are some more humorous moments that could not be shown in the trailer due to being a bit more edgy or work over a longer scene? Well, admittedly there are a few, but for the one funny scene, there are at least three that are not, or just go on far too long stretching a joke way too far to the point that we are sick of it (well, I was).
Because Bad Neighbours has such a slapdash plot they do struggle to fill the surprisingly lean 95 minute running time with these overlong sketches. There may be half arsed attempts at messages about taking responsibility and what it means to be a thirty-something, but they are certainly no more than that as Seth Rogen is essentially playing the same character he always does, just this time one that is a bit older and is married with a baby. A baby, I must point out, whose sheer existence is very much at the mercy of the ‘plot’ and its sketches. The baby is conveniently forgotten about when not needed, but then a pivotal part when involved in a gag, including a photo shoot seen at the end of the film which feels very out of place. Of course Bad Neighbours also conforms to the usual narrative clichés of the genre such as character arcs and certain characters falling out and making up, but even this is lazily rushed just so the narrative can get on with its next improvised and overlong sketch.
Rogen aside, the rest of the cast do great work with the (limited) chances they get. Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Craig Roberts are severely underused, Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo got for me some of the biggest laughs as a former couple that Mac and Kelly are friends with. For me they delivered more edgy comedy that I was hoping the entire film would deliver. Dave Franco and Zac Efron are also well cast, generating good laughs and chemistry with each other, as I found the scenes between the frat boys to be funnier and wished there were more of them. Of course, as producer the star has to be Seth Rogen, who though likeable enough in the identical role he always plays, for me cannot carry a film as the leading man. Even Rose Byrne, who can do comedy and serious films equally well (and here uses her own accent for a change), gets plenty of good moments, but still often feels sidelined.
As the so called ‘plot’ goes along, we are never really given strong enough characters to route or care for as they are all idiots, the frat boys in my view emerging the more sympathetic. Every plot development is very predictable, and the last 10 minutes are not even worth staying in the cinema for. However, compared to the likes of This is 40 or Grown Ups 2, Bad Neighbours is the Citizen Kane of recent mainstream comedies.
Despite showing all the usual lazy methods of recent mainstream comedies, and shooting itself in the foot a little with its trailer, Bad Neighbours has just about enough hits amongst the misses to emerge as a watchable, forgettable and extremely hollow lowest common denominator comedy.