Two months ago, I wrote that Zac Efron’s comedic work was still a few rungs below the work of Judd Apatow. In Bad Neighbours, Efron marginally closes the gap, teaming up with Apatow favourite Seth Rogan and director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) for an entertaining yet crass film.
Husband and wife Mac (Rogan) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are living the American dream with a new house and a new baby. But when a fraternity house moves in next door, the couple find themselves in a domestic war with their young neighbours, particularly their revered and single-minded leader Teddy Sanders (Efron).
Australian audiences may sigh at the thought of yet another fraternity film, and its over-the-top portrayal of youth culture. But Bad Neighbours distinguishes itself from the crowd by dedicating most of the screen time to the unlikely pairing of Rogan and Byrne, who lighten the film with witty banter and awkward sex. The partnership between the vulgar Rogan and the devious Byrne takes a while to get used to, but the partnership works. Indeed, the only scene where their acting is unconvincing is one in which the pair fight.
By positioning the main characters outside the fraternity house, Stoller prevents the audience from being swept up in the cult-like rituals of impressionable college males, a la Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds. Rather, he lets us laugh at them, and ridicule them for their outrageous flaws. In doing so, Bad Neighbours has its fair share of not-safe-for-work humour (most of which revolves around drugs and body parts). But when not attempting gross-out gags or exposing T&A, the fraternity’s party scenes are uncharacteristically cinematic, with a range of cameras and lighting techniques used to emulate the atmosphere of a wild night. The main disappointment is the lack of character development among the offbeat male cast; with the exception of Pete (Dave Franco, the younger brother of James), Stoller does not do enough to give the frat boys a human side, making the collective often seem like a homogeneous mass.
Efron’s Teddy is the only young male lead prominent enough to warrant a surname. His physical presence and portayal of the archetype bad boy means he always demands attention. Nevertheless Efron is still no comedic match for the ever-delightful Rogan and his rat pack. It may be some time before audiences start perceiving Efron as a comedic actor, but Bad Neighbours is no doubt a promising step.
Bad Neighbours is in Australian cinemas from 8 May through Universal Pictures.