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'Neighbors' review: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron keep lazy comedy alive

From left, Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and Rose

From left, Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in "Neighbors," directed by Nicholas Stoller. In theaters on May 9, 2014. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures / Glen Wilson

It's the frat-house crowd versus the front-pack set in "Neighbors," a comedy about two sleep-deprived parents who wage suburban war against the hard-partying Delta Psi Betas next door. Though not as comedically energetic or culturally incisive as it could be, the movie squeaks by thanks to the camaraderie of an unlikely duo: Seth Rogen and Zac Efron.

Rogen plays Mac Radner, proud papa of newborn Stella (Elise and Zoe Vargas, both Muppet-cute), undersexed husband of Kelly (Rose Byrne) and deed-holder of a new home on a quiet street. Quiet, that is, until Teddy Sanders (Efron) and his Deltas show up. Teddy is a twist on Efron's dreamy "High School Musical" persona, an arrogant villain with a radiant, evil beauty. Even Mac has to marvel: "He looks like he was engineered by a gay guy."

Initially, a friendship develops. Mac's housewarming gift, a large joint, is met with Teddy's ultimate compliment: "You don't seem old." But when the parties go too long, Mac calls the cops on his new bro. Soon, the two are locked in a battle for supremacy that includes surveillance cameras, air-bag pranks and psychological warfare.

There's more to "Neighbors" than just the comedic contrast between the schlubby dad and the sleek collegian. Director Nicholas Stoller ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall") occasionally digs a little deeper into the script by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien. Symbolically, Mac hates the carefree kid he can no longer be, just as Teddy abhors the responsible adult he must become. There's something poignant about Teddy's stumbling into a job fair where even his drinking buddy Pete (an excellent Dave Franco) is making plans to leave the Delta nest. "Neighbors" ultimately rules in Mac's favor, but it's to Efron's credit that our hearts ache a bit for his character.

Rounding out the supporting cast are some familiar faces (Lisa Kudrow as the college dean) and some appealing new ones (Jerrod Carmichael as an accident-prone Delta named Garf). Byrne is clearly game for anything, including a gross breast-milk scene, though she's an afterthought in this bromance. It's Rogen and Efron who carry the movie by brawling, pratfalling and bonding so well together.

PLOT Two young parents are horrified when a fraternity moves in next door.

RATING R (pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout)

CAST Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Rose Byrne


BOTTOM LINE Rogen and Efron make an unlikely pair, but they're so good together that they keep this slapdash comedy alive even through its lazy moments.



O, frat brothers, where art thou? On screen raising hell in the new comedy "Neighbors," and doing so in the grand and raunchy tradition of these other frat-house comedies.

ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) -- The Phi Beta Kappa of fraternity flicks has it all -- toga parties, food fights and John Belushi's gross-out funny impersonation of a zit, which he improvised.

REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984) -- This romp about geeks getting even with the Alpha Beta fraternity bullies spawned several sequels and was a steppingstone for several future TV stars, including Anthony Edwards ("ER"), Timothy Busfield ("thirtysomething"), Curtis Armstrong ("Moonlighting") and John Goodman ("Roseanne").

VAN WILDER (2002) -- Ryan Reynolds starred as the campus playboy in year 7 at college in this crude farce. Joining in the fun were "Animal House" star Tim Matheson as Reynolds' dad and Erik Estrada and Dr. Joyce Brothers as themselves.

OLD SCHOOL (2003) -- Disillusioned 30-somethings Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn attempt to relive their party-hearty college days by starting a fraternity for middle-age losers, complete with heavy drinking and Ferrell streaking through town.

-- Daniel Bubbeo

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