Tag Archives: D

NEIGHBORS

Frat boy humor in every sense, “Neighbors” has all the raunchiness of the product that continuously pours out of the Apatowian school of comedy—and then some. As such it will no doubt enjoy a long life in the dens of dissipated fraternity houses all over America. But in this case it also happens actually to be about a frat, Delta Psi Beta. Its local chapter moves into a house next door to young married couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) and cause an incessant ruckus that annoys them and, presumably, their infant daughter Sally (twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) even though she seems to sleep through anything.

When the couple, trying desperately to act cool and failing miserably, ask Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), the chapter’s president, and his ever-loyal veep Pete (Dave Franco) to tone it down, the guys initially respond in a phony conciliatory fashion, even inviting the fogies to join their open-house fling (leaving Sally asleep alone, it seems—though they prominently display their baby monitor), but things don’t improve; and after Mac calls the cops on the new arrivals, the result is an all-out war between the two sides, each trying to outdo the other in malicious destructiveness and humiliation.

The result is raucous but not especially funny unless you enjoy such sights as guys propelled into the ceiling by strategically-situated airbags or making “personal” dildos for sale to campus coeds. The latter is symptomatic of a barrage of gags involving penises; this is another dick-centric comedy. But there’s plenty of other elements to offend, not least a passing joke about infant HIV that comes out of nowhere and goes back to the same place, and an extended sequence involving a breast pump that probably represents the nadir of the movie’s tastelessness (though, to be fair, the competition is strong).

Another aspect of the movie that might have you avert your eyes is Rogen’s proclivity to disrobe at every conceivable opportunity. He appears to have picked up the mantle in this respect that Will Ferrell once carried but has now set down, and frankly it’s no improvement. As if the times he went au naturel in the course of the plot weren’t sufficient, the makers felt the need to add a postscript in which he takes off his shirt yet again.

Otherwise Rogen does his usual shtick—this isn’t so much a performance as a frantic stand-up routine—and he brings co-star Byrne down to his level; their frenetic banter often sounds like really bad improv, or perhaps that feeling results from the fact that you don’t want to believe anybody really wrote this stuff. They’re given a couple of best friends—Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) who are divorced but come together again by becoming a part of Mac and Kelly’s schemes. They come across even shriller than the Radners, who also have another confederate at one point—a DPSIB pledge named Ryan (Craig Roberts) who appears suddenly when required by the plot mechanics and is called by a nickname it would be inappropriate to give here. His abrupt introduction is merely the worst example of how shoddy the movie’s narrative structure is.

Far more intriguing than Mac and Kelly, in any event, are the frat boys Teddy and Pete played by Efron and Franco. There are some very dark aspects to the characters that suggest interesting directions the script might have taken but didn’t dare to. One might observe that had it done so, “Neighbors” might have entered the truly unsettling territory inhabited by the books of Thomas Berger—who coincidentally wrote a novel also called “Neighbors,” made into a movie with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd that didn’t do it justice. Still, for all the screenplay’s tip-toeing around what makes Teddy and Pete really tick, they’re by far the more fascinating side of the equation here, and Efron and Franco the most watchable people on display. By contrast Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as another of the house seniors, and Lisa Kudrow, as a particularly self-interested college dean, are surprisingly ineffectual.

“Neighbors” tries to compensate for its general grossness with prolonged inserts of Sally (indeed, the movie begins with an extended gag involving her and ends with credits in which she’s prominently featured). The Vargas twins are undoubtedly cute as a button, but incessantly showcasing them for repeated “aww” moments is pretty shameless. But that’s typical of the method of director Nicholas Stoller, cinematographer Brandon Trost and editor Zene Baker, who elsewhere resort to hyperkinetic, jagged cutting in the extended rants involving Rogen and Byrne, as well as a surrealistic, oversaturated look in some of the party scenes—the effect of which is unhappily reminiscent of “Spring Breakers.” Just from the standpoint of visual style, the result is pretty much a mess.

One-upsmanship stuff like “Neighbors” is hardly unusual on screen, and it’s been done far better in the past—Laurel and Hardy’s “Them Thar Hills” and “Tit for Tat” are still classics of their kind, rightfully so. And it has to be admitted that this example of back-and-forth mayhem is at least marginally preferable to the suburbanite-frat warfare of Adam Sandler’s abominable “Grown Ups 2.” But that’s a bar set so low that an ant could barely pass beneath it. This is a coarse and sloppy gross-out comedy made all the worse by the occasional moments that suggest it could have been something more.

THE OTHER WOMAN

Early in Nick Cassavetes’ chick-flick misfire, Cameron Diaz says, “I’m too old for this s**t.” Indeed she is. Not that the star isn’t still gorgeous. But the last time there was a movie about a bunch of females who bound together to take vengeance on an unfaithful cad who was two-timing them all—“John Tucker Must Die”—the conspirators were high-school coeds, and it seemed nutty even for girls of that age to get into such a tizzy over any guy, although he was the campus stud and sports star. In “The Other Woman” two of the trio are in their early forties, and the notion that at that age they’re still basically defining themselves in terms of their relationship to a man is demeaning to women generally, particularly since the movie is obviously aimed at them—and written by a woman to boot. (The man, it should be added, doesn’t seem like such a great catch in any event.)

But this is a film that’s insulting to women not only in those terms, but because it’s exploitative of them physically. It takes pains to show Diaz and another of the stars, Kate Upton, running around in bikinis as often as possible, leaving little to the imagination. One wonders how wives who bring their husbands (or girls their boyfriends) to the movie will react when their partners start drooling over these sequences.

Even apart from such considerations, “The Other Woman” is pretty awful. It begins with Carly Whitten (Diaz)—supposedly a powerful NYC attorney, though as far as we can see her only real distinction is an awesome wardrobe (at the beginning she’s handed a major merger to oversee, but that plot thread is completely dropped when the plot kicks in)—being involved with hunky hedge fund manager Mark King (Nikolas Coster-Waldau). When he’s called away to deal with a plumbing problem at his Connecticut house—missing an introduction her father (Don Johnson) in the process—she takes her dad’s advice to surprise him at his place in sexy garb. Unfortunately, when she arrives the door is answered by Mark’s mousy wife Kate (Leslie Mann).

This is the same preliminary set-up you might recall from last year’s “Baggage Claim”—or perhaps not, since it was little seen—but the script goes off in a different, though no less terrible, direction when gonzo Kate shows up at Carly’s office, making an embarrassing scene there before showing up at her apartment to ask for help against the man who’s wronged them both. The two decide to spy on Mark, only to discover there’s a third woman in his life—curvaceous young Amber (Upton), who as far as this viewer can discern has no job at all. When she finds out Mark’s been lying to her too, she joins forces with the older duo to punish him.

It would be dispiriting to go to undue lengths recounting what the women do; their schemes involve stuff like putting hair remover in Mark’s shampoo, adding laxatives and estrogen to his drinks and finally removing all the illegally-gotten funds he’s stored in off-shore accounts and informing his business partners of his malfeasance. It all ends in a gruesome final confrontation in which the guy winds up bloodied and financially ruined—a finale that, with its unpleasant level of violence, comes across as tonally off the charts.

But that’s just the culminating misstep in a movie that has plenty of them. Some ugly potty humor seems designed to exceed the notorious bit in “Dumb and Dumber,” and earlier on there’s a vomit scene that’s almost equally depressing. Slapstick moments, like one in which Diaz supposedly crashes onto a lawn from a second-storey window, literally fall flat. And the script is peppered with clichés of the genre that grate. A big, slobbering dog? Check. (And watch it urinate on a hardwood floor, too.) A wise-cracking secretary? Check. (And fill your need for diversity by having her played by Nicki Minaj.) A good new guy for Carly? Check—he’s Kate’s handsome, supportive brother Phil (Taylor Kinney), who couldn’t be sweeter. And needless to say, Johnson’s father figure is a charming philanderer working toward a sixth marriage. No prizes for guessing whom he’ll wind up with.

The performances jibe with the shabbiness of the material. Diaz is broad and curiously brusque, while Upton is pretty but dull. Minaj, Johnson and Kinney do what the script demands and nothing more, while Coster-Waldau exudes sleaze and endures humiliation several times over. Then there’s Mann, whose over-the-top mixture of primness and goofiness is irritating at first appearance, only to grow more and more annoying as the plot rolls on. The fact that we’re asked to accept the fact that Kate’s also a brilliant “idea person” takes implausibility to new heights. On the technical level “The Other Woman” is okay, though cinematographer Robert Fraisse gives the images a plastic gloss that marks sitcom style.

Numbingly stupid and uncommonly nasty, this is the sort of chick flick that gives chick flicks a really bad name.