When the house next door goes up for sale, Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Byrne) hope for neighbours who could become pals. Instead they get a frat house, with whom they’re initially friendly, until a misunderstanding sparks a battle that quickly gets out of hand.
We have, evidently, reached the point at which Seth Rogen, who seemingly five minutes ago was the kind face of irresponsible arrested development, is now being cast as ‘married man with child’. It makes chronological sense — he’s 32 — but a bit of warning might have been appreciated, so we could prepare ourselves. In Nicholas Stoller’s ’80s-tinged, fitfully funny comedy Rogen is Mac Radner, husband to Kelly (Rose Byrne) and quietly working out life with a new baby. At least, it’s quiet until a college fraternity moves in next door, intent on staging the biggest party in history. This fraternity is led by Teddy, played by Zac Efron. Again, a heads-up that Efron is now in the stoner, shirt-averse party-bro bracket would have made a lot of us feel less old. And so war commences.
There are many things that are highly enjoyable and commendable about this film. For one, Byrne is actually an equal part of the group, rather than being relegated to ‘shrew wife’ status, as the Radners develop increasingly unhinged schemes to have the revellers thrown out. And there are stretches that are extremely funny, particularly involving an elaborate air-bag prank and the creation of home-made dildos. What it doesn’t have is much progression. It is more than anything a selection of sketches, with the previous scene rarely having any effect on the next. It means you don’t really know who these characters are, which leads to an unsatisfying ending. It’s only ever as good as the joke it’s currently working on.
There is an increasing belief in film that improvisation results in a purer, better form of comedy than learning a script. Making it up in the moment can lead to flashes of brilliance, but it can also result in something you get here: scenes that devolve into shouting, repetition and no punchline. Echoing the central problem in the story, this might have worked out a lot better if everyone had just sat down and talked it out.
A few big laughs but weakly drawn characters mean a film that is enjoyable enough in the moment but then quickly forgotten.