Review: Bad Neighbours (2014)

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Director: Nicholas Stoller
Screenwriters: Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O’Brien
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jake Johnson, Lisa Kudrow & Ike Barinholtz
Runtime: 96 min // Certificate: 15


If you boil comic cinema down to its most basic components, there are but two major types; there’s the type in which the jokes are incorporated into a rich, satisfying story, as in the films of people like Woody Allen and Wes Anderson, or there’s the type in which the loose plot is built upon and around a bunch of pre-written gags, a la Airplane! or some reprehensible Adam Sandler vehicle. In the case of Bad Neighbours, the fourth feature film from Get Him to the Greek director Nicholas Stoller, it is without question the latter that applies, though this is far from a bad thing.

Now, if we’re to judge comedies solely on their laughs-per-minutes hit rate then Bad Neighbours is, perhaps rather surprisingly given that it trades primarily in “gross out” humour of the Superbad / This is the End variety (two films which I like, by the way, though I always consider them exceptions to the rule), an unequivocal success. Though the actual ratio of good gags to dud gags is about 50:50 at best, the film fires off its jokes with all the focus of a Gatling gun in the hope that at least some of them will hit their mark, even if the rest fall flat before they’ve even left the barrel.

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In practice what this means is that even though the film doesn’t always work – and indeed on some occasions it just fails altogether – there’s still more than enough going on to ensure that the next laugh is barely a second or two away. No matter what your comedic tastes, Bad Neighbours does its best to accommodate you at some point. There’s slapstick, vulgarity, inventive swearing, inoffensive stereotyping, sarcasm, wit, absurdity and parody, not to mention a constant stream of pop culture references (the De Niro scene in particular is hilarious), all of which come together in a blaze of charmless, graceless but hugely enjoyable glory in an attempt to make you laugh, cringe, wince and groan in equal measure.

If you’ve seen the trailer you’ll know the plot, so I won’t waste any time on that, but what surprised me most about Bad Neighbours is that for all of its (expected) crudity the film is actually brimming with heart. Though it isn’t particularly deep or meaningful, it flirts with ideas about age, generational divides and how we’re all fearful of turning into the people we hated when we were younger. Fair enough, “flirting” is about as far as it goes with these ideas but let’s be reasonable, it’s sort of difficult to get all deep and philosophical about life moments after your characters have made clay dildos to sell to their fellow students in a bid to make money, so I guess it’s nice to see the film even make an attempt to be poignant…

Yet even if dildo jokes make you cringe, you can be safe in the knowledge that another, better joke is just around the corner. Bad Neighbours might not be clever but it knows its audience well and it is, even in its weaker moments, pretty damn funny. The interactions between Byrne and Rogen are wonderful, both on a comedic and a dramatic level, and you get a genuine sense that they both love what they’re doing. There’s a lot of obvious improvisation, though those moments are by far the funniest, and it’s tough not to appreciate just how infectious the harmless humour is. Yes it’s crude, yes it’s vulgar and yes, sometimes, it’s just plain irritating, but for most of the film’s runtime I let go of my senses and just took it for what it is, which is a well-meaning, engaging little comedy.

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On a final note, I think Zac Efron has finally found a calling. Though That Awkward Moment was hateful, Efron is absolutely perfect in the role of the narcissistic “douche” character. Accompanied by Dave Franco, a guy who has all but made a career out of playing these kinds of roles, Efron brings just the right amount of cuntish charm to his character. Sure, the performance is a bit one-note and he struggles whenever he is required to deviate even slightly from his “frat boy” persona but he still carries the role well, demonstrating an impressive knack for both comic timing and delivery in the process. In fact, the more Efron expands his oeuvre away from cookie-cutter nonsense like High School Musical, the more vindicated I feel in my assertion that he’s much more than just a beautiful face / torso, but is actually a decent actor with quite a lot to offer when given the right role.

Basically, if you like Seth Rogen’s brand of comedy (which I don’t, in general, but this and This is the End are beginning to sway me towards liking him) or if you like, for example, 21 Jump Street, there’s a high chance you’ll like this. It has no pretentions about what it is and it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t, and though it isn’t quite as funny as it seems to think it is, I still had a ball with it. And hey, if all else fails, at least you get to watch Zac Efron (described by Rogen’s character as looking like “something a gay guy designed in a laboratory”) wandering around sans shirt for most of the film which is, y’know… nice.