What happens when Zac Efron and his fratboy buddies move in next door to not-quite-so-old Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne? Madness, apparently. The former are intent on doing that most American of things by running a frat house in a standard domestic setting and partying all day and all night, whereas the latter are just desperate to get some rest as they try and look after their baby daughter, yet lament the apparent loss of their carefree youth. What on Earth are they going to do with themselves? Why, try and join in with the fraternity and prove that their youthful exuberance isn’t a thing of the past. Naturally.
If you’ve seen most of Rogen’s films to date then you know exactly what to expect, albeit with the slight twist that he is now the older, slightly grumpier one rather than the mischief maker as he has been in the past. That demonstrates the main problem with Bad Neighbours (or simply Neighbors as it’s known in the USA, because apparently we in the UK are such fans of Australian soaps we might get confused. Bless). He’s not a spring chicken by any stretch, but seeing Rogen on the other side of the prankster divide is a little tough to appreciate. And yes, that’s even taking into account his appearance in Knocked Up, for the record.
For the most part the jokes and the plot do a decent job, but the rivalry between the frat house and the frazzled new parents falls flat shortly after the rivalry is established. Sure, they engage in a game of one upmanship that gradually escalates into bigger and more extravagant pranks, but it feels like there’s a disconnect between the situation and the material, as if there was a lot of footage left on the cutting room floor (figuratively speaking, of course) and a Frankenstein’s Monster of average jokes has been amalgamated from the corpse of what may have been quite a decent story.
The frat boy group are surprisingly fun, if a little on the idiotic side. But then you could argue this is entirely in keeping with the frat boy identity. Or in fact, exactly the same childish sort of attitude adopted by a lot of young men everywhere. Who wouldn’t want to party all night, keep drinking until the break of dawn and then try and avoid the attention of Lisa Kudrow’s university principle? Actually, perhaps that’s a bad example.
On the other half of the divide are Rogen and Byrne, beleaguered parents who are struggling to balance their lives before and after children entered into the equation. It’s not difficult to empathise with their situation and having to contend with noisy neighbours (I’ve been there, done that, worn the t-shirt and burnt it in a sacrificial fire), but their method of resolving the problem is what leads to the conflict in the first instance. It’s just a shame that the resulting battle of wits isn’t actually that witty. Rather, it is exactly like the fraternity itself – puerile, dirty, and rife with lazy toilet humour.