Remember Joel Schumacher’s 1985 Razzle Award-winning coming-of-age film “St. Elmo’s Fire”? The New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote, “Its characters are old enough to enjoy the first flushes of prosperity, but still sufficiently youthful to keep their self-absorption intact. But soon enough, they will be forced to give up their late-night carousing at a favorite bar and move on to more responsible lives. In the film’s terms, which are distinctly limited, this will mean finding a more sedate hangout and learning to go there for brunch.”
That, too, is the basic premise of Nicholas Stoller’s comedy, “Neighbors.” Written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, “Neighbors” stars new parents, Mac (Seth Rogan) and Kelly Radner (Rose Bryne). They’re convinced that they’re the “cool” parents — who can take care of their baby and go to all-night ragers.
“Just because we have a house and a baby doesn’t mean we’re old people,” says Kelly.
“We can have fun and a baby,” adds Mac.
But when the Delta Psi Beta boys (with leading men Zac Efron as fraternity president Teddy Sanders and Dave Franco as VP Pete) move next door (they burned down their last frat house), Mac and Kelly learn that they actually prefer brunch at farmer’s markets and making themed baby calendars and going to bed at (gasp!) 10 o’clock.
Like last summer’s comedy hit “This is the End,” half of the appeal of “Neighbors” are the the surprise celebrity cameos. Andy Samberg’s (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Saturday Night Live”) featured as the toga party founder in a Delta Psi Beta flashback. Lisa Kudrow (“Friends”) plays the university’s dean. Adam DeVine (“Pitch Perfect,” “Modern Family”) invents beer pong. Jake Johnson’s (“New Girl”) the creator of the “Boot & Bally” — a maneuver where you drink until you throw up, which you drink again (Sadly, the “True American” isn’t one of the party games mentioned). Even Steve Carrell makes an appearance in the film as “The Office’s” Michael Scott. “Bros before hoes,” he says in front of a Dunder Mifflin sign.
At times, “Neighbors” feels like an audition reel for “Saturday Night Live’s” Lorne Michaels. Zac Efron and Seth Rogan duel with their opposing Batman impersonations (Efron’s Christian Bale while Rogan’s Michael Keaton). Efron and Franco impersonate Robert De Niro. Ike Barinholtz (“The Mindy Project”) pulls a mean Ray Romano and Barack Obama. And Australian actress Rose Byrne plays a spot-on Anne Hathaway.
The comedy, though, is the spoonful of sugar that helps us swallow some of the film’s tougher storylines. Teddy’s graduating from college life. Pete’s a child of divorce. Everyone has to grow up — which is hard to do.
Like Rob Lowe’s character in “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Efron’s Teddy gets by with his good looks — batting his baby blues and strutting around half naked in front of an Abercrombie & Fitch store. He’s the Peter Pan who will never grow up — who can’t function outside his 4/20 parties and all-night keggers. The kind of alpha male who gets left behind when everyone moves on.
Before “Neighbors” shines that harsh light on reality, though, Stoller’s film extolls the hedonistic lifestyle with a number of highly stylized party anthems (including Theophilus London’s “Girls Girls $,” Icona Pop’s “All Night,” Fergie’s “London Bridge” and Kei$ha’s “Die Young”).
The fun lasts 96 minutes and is infectious: a non-stop party full of your favorite people — who just happen to be super-talented celebrities from TV and film. And while this party isn’t at James Franco’s house (this time) — at least you can get in with the price of a movie ticket.
“Neighbors” was directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien.