DIR: Nicholas Stoller • WRI: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brian • PRO: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Zene Baker • MUS: Michael Andrews • DES: Julie Berghoff • CAST: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, Lisa Kudrow
Trading in America under the simpler (if misspelt) moniker of Neighbors, this sporadic scatological comedy has had ‘Bad’ grafted onto it’s title in this territory. Probably for fear we mistake it for a feature-length take on TV’s Ramsey Street and its soapy residents.
This venture is set in an American college town where human Fozzie Bear Seth Rogen has improbably settled down with Australian goddess Rose Byrne. (She probably was the first to alert the producers to the title clash in her homeland). For once employing her native accent on-screen, Byrne is a foul-mouth delight throughout and sets the comedic bar for the rest of the cast. Sadly the remainder of the ensemble treat the bar as something to limbo underneath rather than something to vault over.
Rogen is quickly becoming comedy Marmite. His habit of yukking it up at his own jokes seems to be a reflex that he can’t shed. But surely a director and editor working in tandem could literally cut it out. Or cut it down a bit at the very least. Anyhow, for reasons too simple to not outline, a university fraternity moves in beside the couple in their tranquil suburban neighbourhood. Initially, the pair displays an odd, yet understandable, impulse to not be regarded as old and unhip by the teen army on their doorstep.
However, despite sampling the frat’s hospitality to the full, the home owners quickly tire of the incessant raves and ragers next door. When they breach a pact not to call the police, the leaders of the frat (Zac Efron and James Franco) seem both wounded and wound up by the betrayal. Soon open war has been declared with the students investing immense time, expense and effort into ever more elaborate pranks. While Rogen and Byrne’s characters consider minting a brand new definition for the word ‘fratricide’.
Or at least that last paragraph suggests what the pitch for this film must have promised. In truth, the escalation of hostilities is handled poorly enough. It’s all a bit spluttering and unsure of itself. One recurring gag about redeployed air bags was given away entirely in the trailer and limps to an uninspired conclusion rather than a comic crescendo.
Elsewhere the entire project smacks of a feature that never had its script nailed down and wanted to allow room for the performers to find the ‘gold’ on the day. Naturally, actors must love the exploration and spontaneity allowed under this method of work but increasingly it strikes me that audiences are getting a bit short-changed in this process. For the most part, comedy should be tight as a drum. Not meandering and poking around in search of the joke. And it must be placing a huge onus on editors to retroactively re-align story and character within the flux of this framework.
And here it shows. For instance, Byrne’s best pal apparently begins a mildly inappropriate relationship with a male student but it is so absent in the story that a late reference to its’ importance is utterly lost. Overall, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is featured so rarely that his absence or presence here is redundant.
Still, American high-school movies have always possessed the ability to depict parties on an epic scale that can only make Irish filmmakers drool in envy. Most Irish house parties on screen usually consist of three extras doing laps around a lava lamp. However, even in the hedonistic stakes Bad Neighbours is a bit tame. Again, the sense that more explicit material will be added in future released versions is omnipresent. You can already see the ads for the DVD having ‘a too hot for cinema’ edit with an extra ten minutes restored.
As it stands, the film is far from a dead loss and there are some great one-liners strung across the film like islands in an archipelago. In the end though, Bad Neighbours isn’t bad enough. Or offensive enough. And personally, I’m a little offended by that.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Bad Neighbours is released on 2nd May 2014