There is a very real story buried beneath the skin of Bad Neighbors, though it would be better served as a serious drama than a salacious Hollywood comedy. The movie deals with new parents coping with a fraternity house next door. This is a great premise. Often I have wondered how suburban dwellers survive in the vicinity of a frat house. Bad Neighbors doesn’t provide me an answer, but it lets me in on the scoop.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) are new to the neighbourhood, as is their daughter Stella, who is really just a cute and cuddly plot device. This story, in all its manifestations, would still work if Mac and Kelly were a couple in their 80s, or parents of a house of seven, or even two serial murderers determined to escape justice (this might have made a better movie, I suspect). But Hollywood decree dictates that Mac and Kelly must be young and fairly attractive, so they are. The house next door is up for sale, and there’s no way it will go to the congenial gay couple who happen to also have a newborn. Life is not so kind. It goes to the local college fraternity, Delta Psi Beta, led by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), whose ripped body removes the need for his face, and whose house of bros is like a bubbling cavern of lecherous minions.
Everything that happens in the frat house is to be expected. There is loud music, and a lot of dancing, there’s booze everywhere, and pool parties, and many teenagers frolicking in the bath of their own sweat. Mac and Kelly worry for Stella. The loud music could rupture her slumber. They head on over to the Delta Psi house to lay down some ground rules, but end up spending the night reliving their own college days. And then, out of desperation, they call the cops, a mistake that ruins the short-lived brotherhood between Mac and Teddy. So starts the war, as each household deploys underhanded tactics to try and chase the other out of the neighbourhood. You know the drill.
Seth Rogen wouldn’t be caught dead doing an advertisement for Acting Diversity. In every movie he lends his face to, he is locked down as the same drug-obsessed lout, whose mouth is afoul with every synonym for penis, vagina, sex, semen and bum you can think of. His prowess is certainly on display here. He belongs to a group of actors (Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson) whose priority is the naturalisation of themselves on screen. In a way, they are not even actors. They exist in a shell offscreen, and then carry the shell with them to work. So when Seth Rogen appears on reality TV as himself, on talk shows and documentaries, you are seeing not another side of him, but the only side he has.
Zac Efron, I think, would take up the Acting Diversity campaign. He is a joy to behold in Bad Neighbors, a movie lingering at the other end of the spectrum from High School Musical. Yes, his body puts mine to shame, but it is not his body that does the work for him here. He is a natural. Whether he’s a natural fraternity jock, I cannot say, but he is natural in this role. And funny too. He shares more comedic chemistry with Rogen than Rogen does with his onscreen wife, played by Rose Byrne, the talented Australian actress who lands in thankless, perfunctory parts but always seems thankful playing them. When the inevitable climax of Bad Neighbors arrives, Mac and Teddy find themselves trapped in a fistfight. Yes, the story has been building towards this, but the fight is unexpectedly hilarious. It follows the formula of many of the great comedy scenes of the Silent Era, using timely gags and ill-placed props to provide the laughter, instead of using bone-crunching violence (there is a shot, however, of a man’s broken leg). There are a couple of moments in the movie’s first two acts that made me chuckle; this climactic fight made me tear.
That saved it for me. I was getting into the story — into the whole misfortune of having a frat house invade the serenity of a neighbourhood — but the laughter wasn’t coming. The movie was growing formulaic and flat around its promising premise. I had just about given up hope, then the fight came, and my hysterics made up for lost ground. It was like a sudden release of pent-up tension. If the fight hadn’t come, I suspect I’d have needed one or two drinks from the Delta Psi Beta house, and maybe spent the night.
Best Moment | Teddy and Mac comparing Batmans, Teddy and his vice-president exchanging rhyming bro slogans, or the fight scene.
Worst Moment | The stupid airbag gag.