7 May 2014

BAD NEIGHBOURS- Review

Up until now, director Nicholas Stoller has scored three for three in terms of Apatovian (not a word) comedy movies that don't actually get on my tits. Count 'em- Forgetting Sarah Marshall, its spin-off Get Him To The Greek, and the underrated The Five Year Engagement. Each of them represents a series of rambling skits more than a tight, coherent narrative, but none of them outstay their welcome in the manner of certain Judd Apatow productions.

Now, Stoller has turned his hand to the frathouse comedy, giving the genre a spit-and-polish for 21st century audiences, but it's not the fraternity who take precedence. Bad Neighbours is eager to ensure that our sympathies lie with Mac and Kelly, a couple of young parents who are finding it difficult to make the social sacrifices that their dream suburban life demands of them. When the Delta Psi fraternity, led by charismatic president Teddy, moves in next door, they're eager to be liked by their cool new neighbours, but quickly become embroiled in an escalating feud.

Many reviews have remarked upon Seth Rogen's sudden transition from being the young layabout to playing Mac as the responsible adult, with more than a little alarm. Others have compared the film to 1981's Aykroyd-Belushi comedy Neighbors, (also the US title of this one, either coincidentally or not) in its reversal of Rogen's boisterous public image and the effective demolition of Zac Efron's squeaky clean image as Teddy. Each of those points is valid, but the problem is that together they tap into a potentially interesting new spin on the generation gap comedy, in which the film ultimately only feigns interest.

Rogen and Efron have surprisingly good comic chemistry before they start brutally pranking one another- as the film hilariously observes, the gulf between their generations is only the difference between Michael Keaton's Batman and Christian Bale's Dark Knight. Once the film gets going with the pranks, it's far more about crass slapstick, and of the two leads, it's Efron who will benefit more from trying something different here. In the wake of that awkward moment when That Awkward Moment came out, earlier this year, this at least proves that he does have some rude comedy chops to match his all-singing, all-dancing, matinee idol-ness, the absolute bastard.

Rogen probably has the best voice in the business, perpetually sounding like a stoned version of Rowlf from The Muppets, and while I'm always game for him in a shouty, panicked comic turn, it seems like they had trouble finding something for him to do here. The same goes for the always classy, but emphatically third-billed Rose Byrne, using her native Australian accent for what feels like the first time in ages. She and Rogen have a good rapport, and there are some sporadically funny scenes of coitus interruptus between Mac and Kelly. Alas, once the pranks get started, many of the strong supporting players feel lost in the mix, including Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Roberts and, sadly, Byrne herself.

I enjoy a bit of crass slapstick as much as the next man, and I laughed a good few times during this one. But the downfall, as it so often is in this kind of movie, is in the reliance on improv for dialogue. It's not just that people start talking over one another and shouting, but it only gives the story an illusion of escalation, without actually tackling that incline from a story point of view. There's also a disproportionate amount of pop culture references that will date the film significantly. How long will it really be before you could as easily repeat that terrific Batman scene with references to Ben Affleck and David Mazouz?

Bad Neighbours may be the least of Nicholas Stoller's films to date, but as in his previous films, it reaps the rewards of a surprisingly even-handed approach to an increasingly ridiculous conflict. Stoller gets the best out of a cast who are very well matched, and although Efron steals the show without too much trouble by finding a new outlet for his macho sensitivity that he's evidently been striving for, Rogen and Byrne hold their own as the film descends into elaborate slapstick. It won't date well, but it's perfectly enjoyable for the week or so that it will stick in your memory.

Bad Neighbours is now advance screening in cinemas nationwide, and goes on general release from Friday. Basically, it's out now.
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch

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