2.5 stars (out of four)
Neighbors finds Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, both in their early 30s, playing the “old couple next door” to a group of wild frat boys led by Zac Efron, age 26.
Only in Hollywood? Maybe not.
The most amusing and knowing thing about this bumpy summer comedy is how it shows, in-between all the penis and boob jokes, that we’re all just one life change away from curmudgeonhood.
One minute you’re smoking grass, the next you’re screaming at “kids” to get off your lawn.
In the case of Rogen’s Mac and Byrne’s Kelly, they’re one-time ravers who are now parents of a baby girl so adorable anybody would take a bullet for her.
All they want — as any parent would — is a little peace and quiet so their darling can sleep blissfully at night.
But that’s not happening now that the local college frat boys of Delta Psi have moved next door.
They’re led by the well-sculpted Teddy (Efron), who, if you know your Animal House references, is a cross between scheming Otter and explosive Bluto.
You just never know which one you’re going to get.
Cue mayhem as diaper changers and toga wearers collide. Hose off and repeat.
Neighbors is directed by Nicholas Stoller, who in many ways is ill-suited to high-concept comedy.
He likes to ease into a story, as he demonstrated in The Five-Year Engagement and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and he’s also not one for going all out on the gross-out as Judd Apatow would. Among Stoller’s many writing credits are the two most recent Muppet movies.
So the film feels tamer than it should, even though it’s scripted by Apatow co-producers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien.
That’s really saying something about a movie that includes a yard sale of homemade dildos, nursing breasts that spray like firehoses and magic mushrooms being consumed by the fistful.
The laughs are plentiful, but few are side-splitting. As a general rule, you either go all the way in comedy such as this or you don’t go there at all.
Fortunately, Rogen and Byrne make for an appealingly frazzled and conflicted couple.
Mac and Kelly think they’re daring for having sex in the kitchen and their initial strategy for dealing with Teddy and his fellow partiers is to show how they, too, can consume mass quantities and party until they puke.
That’s always with one attentive ear on the baby monitor, because they’re parents first, right?
But when Mac and Kelly cross a line of trust drawn by Teddy — whom Efron plays with a compelling mix of menace and charm — it’s time for the picket fence to be kicked down.
Also interesting are Lisa Kudrow as the daffy college dean and Dave Franco as Teddy’s semi-serious sidekick.
Franco’s character Pete comes on as an idiot — he does a party trick with his instant erection — yet he starts to realize there’s something more to life than babes, bongs and beer pong.
It’s called growing up, dude.
It happens to us all.
Now get off my damned lawn!
Peter Howell is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.