This review was originally written for Cherwell
‘Seth Rogen’s unimaginative new comedy is witless and dull, saved only by Zac Efron’s effortless magnetism’
One could quite plausibly argue that Seth Rogen has played the same role in almost every film he has starred in, despite superficial differences in character. Even in the shockingly dull Paul, in which he voices a foul-mouthed extra-terrestrial, his dreary adolescent humour is no different to that found in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Or (the otherwise hilarious) Superbad. Or This Is The End. Clearly, somebody once told him that he was a funny guy and he has clung to the same brand of witless smut that earned him this accolade.
In Bad Neighbours, he tries to pass himself off as an adult struggling to cope with the responsibility of a newborn daughter, yet you would not trust his feckless Mac Radner with a pet rock. He and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) are finding their feet as parents when a fraternity moves in next door and wreaks havoc with their tame suburban life. At first, Mac and Kelly enjoy the frat boys’ booze-guzzling, dope-smoking activities, relishing the chance to revisit all that they have grown too old for. As the fraternity’s incessant loud music and ceaseless partying continue, however, they ultimately decide to destroy it, with the help of their friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo).
Zac Efron co-stars as the fraternity’s charming president Teddy, whose good looks and seemingly sweet disposition are instantly magnetic. On reflection, the film missed a trick in focussing on Rogen instead of Efron. Efron’s character, although lacking in any sophistication or originality, is at least believable, whereas Rogen, in a vague attempt at implying internal conflict, lacks any convincing depth and just appears childishly unscrupulous.
Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are regrettably under-employed, the latter barely featuring in any memorable capacity. Byrne is completely uninteresting as Kelly, Barinholtz and Gallo are similarly unmemorable and a short cameo from Lisa Kudrow is painfully unfunny. In truth, Efron’s Teddy is the only character even remotely watchable; his endearing good-nature and enviable – there’s no other word for it – coolness are even compelling at times.
There are funny moments; a confrontation at a ‘Robert De Niro Party’ is brilliantly executed (‘Are you talking to me?’ asks Teddy, as Taxi Driver De Niro) and Craig Roberts (who starred in the brilliant Submarine) has an entertaining role as a timid fraternity pledge, but such moments are all too scarce for a big-budget comedy like this. Far more common is the unimaginative dross essential to most Seth Rogen comedies, packed with enough meaningless swearwords to trick you into thinking it funny. Some scenes, one in which Mac is forced to milk his own wife’s breasts for example, are genuinely nauseating.
The film’s premise is funny enough; the relationship between responsible adult missing his riotous youth and popular frat president living a life of hedonistic pleasure has obvious promise and in fairness, the opening half an hour is moderately entertaining as the two meet each other. But, with the plot sliding out of view, lost in a dense fog of unfunny penis jokes, the film begins to border on unwatchable.