‘Neighbors’ draws good crowds, but for what?

By Gary Clift

The new film “Neighbors” sold out local showings on Friday and Saturday night immediately following its release. This reminded me of how little I understand what it is movie audiences want. On my way out to the twelve-plex to see the film, I had been wondering if ANYBODY would want to see it.

My conjecture was based on the previews (often misleading). Nobody laughed at the previews. And I was also thinking that the film’s stars—Zac Efron, Seth Rogan, and Rose Byrne—are overexposed and, at least in Rogan’s case, past his peak popularity.

So I was assuming movie-goers think about what they want to see in films. Now I wonder if they don’t show up at the theater when they have the admission price and the time and then throw themselves into the auditorium hosting the newest age- or gender- appropriate offering. Otherwise, how do I explain the large crowds which hurried in to see “Neighbors”?

The last “Neighbors” movie I saw was the 1981 John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd flop based on a Thomas Berger novel that was probably way too hip for the popcorn-consuming crowds. This newer “Neighbors” movie, like that one, has a version of the list plot. We dislike our neighbors and then here are the set of always accelerating skirmishes we fight with them.

This isn’t a bad plot scheme. It is frequently used, but a well-written list story can still act as the basis for a successful film. Horror movies almost always use this sort of form. It figures more subtly in some romantic comedies and even action flics. A notable recent action film, “The Raid 2,” had a list organization with fight and chase scenes put in order.

My first tip that the big afternoon crowd in the theater for the “Neighbors” matinee was going to be laughing at least some was that they laughed during the trailer for the up-coming sequel to the movie version of the TV show “21 Jump Street.” To be fair to my fellow ticket holders, that preview was funnier than anything in “Neighbors.”

And they didn’t laugh all that much during the feature. Its list goes like this: Rogan and Byrne have a new baby and a new home. A fraternity moves in next door. They go over to make friends with its president, “High School Musical’s” Efron. But the second night the boys are in the house, the married couple can’t get the pres on the phone to ask him to turn down the music so the baby can sleep.

So they call the cops, who tell the frat boys who has complained about them. The boys respond by trashing the couple’s lawn, hitting them with large, inflated balls, and window peeking at them. By the way, the movie contains some nude female breasts and several scenes of simulated sex. At least a couple of these involve Mr. Rogan, and audiences may be grossed out by that.

After a sale of the boys’ genitalia cast in soft rubber, the fraternity can afford a large hot tub, which makes them even more obnoxious neighbors. The couple replies by going to the next black light party and arranging for the fraternity’s vice president to be caught having sex with the president’s girl.

Then the movie’s story dies. There are scenes where the list demands that there be scenes, but they are often recapitulations of earlier scenes and don’t seem to advance the plot. There are some bits intended as comedy—mom’s breasts harden and, as she’s been drinking, she can’t get relief from breast feeding. Her husband “milks” her. Sound like fun?

There is a scheme to catch the boys hazing a pledge. That unravels, but we’re not sure exactly why. The boys steal the air bags from the couple’s minivan and install them (fantasy time here) in different chairs in their house and at Rogan’s work. The couple breaks up for about two minutes. The frat’s officers psychoanalyze each other. None of this works.

Then there is an obscure threat which leads to a new plot to get the boys in trouble. None of this is funny. The climax is not in any way satisfying. And as I walked out of the theater I was unable to remember instances when the audience seemed to be sincerely amused by what happened on the screen.

Heck. I could have warned them.

But I don’t think they were of a mind to listen.

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