NEIGHBORS (2014. Nicholas Stoller)
Zac Efron has 34 acting credits on IMDb, and after looking through them all, I just realized the only time I’d ever seen him was in the execrable NEW YEAR’S EVE. I don’t know if any of his prior work was this impressive, but I certainly didn’t expect that he’d be the best thing about NEIGHBORS. From his dead-on imitation of Christian Bale’s Batman voice to his gift for physical comedy (during a fight that seems like the very first major motion picture sequence written explicitly with the intention of winning an MTV Movie Award for Best Fight Scene), Efron is quite a good actor here. Seth Rogen spins his wheels a bit, playing what seems like exactly the same guy from ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO — I’d like to see him stretch a little more like he did in TAKE THIS WALTZ one of these days, but he’s still quite funny when riffing during an improv scene. And Rose Byrne continues to prove that drama (DAMAGES, for example) may not be her thing, but comedy sure is (she was terrific in BRIDESMAIDS).
As a raunchy frat comedy disguising a more sober fear of adulthood, NEIGHBORS has its hits and misses, but luckily it keeps improving as it goes along and contains some great setpieces (my favorites being the aforementioned fight and a breast-milk scene about which the less said the better). Better directed and edited than Stoller’s prior THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT, though not as consistently funny as his FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, you pretty much know what you’re in for with NEIGHBORS (and if you’re into this genre, you won’t be disappointed), although the sound of the Russian pitcher from EASTBOUND & DOWN doing a terrific Mark Wahlberg impression is one of its many welcome bizarre surprises.