Two things catapult Nicholas Stoller's hilariously crass, low-class comedy "Neighbors" into the stratosphere of adult fun.
First, constant surprises go off like strings and strings and even more strings of M-80s: Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
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"Neighbors"★ ★ ★
Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lisa Kudrow
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Other: A Universal Pictures release. Rated R for drug use, language, sexual situations, nudity and crassness. 96 minutes
After a delayed fuse, the surprises start and never slow down as "Neighbors" whisks us along on an unpredictable, sometimes alarming (in mostly a good way) tale of two households, both alike in indignity.
The second thing is Stella, the infant belonging to Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne's married couple. This cuddlesome little tyke isn't just an excuse to showcase pure cuteness (although that happens), the expressive actors playing Stella (twins Elise and Zoe Vargas) serve as a Greek chorus of nonverbal commentary as they laugh, grimace, squint and burble in response to events unfolding before them.
"Neighbors" comes from the director of the hard R-rated comedies "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Get Him to the Greek," so you have an idea of what to expect in this unpredictably wild tale of maturing characters struggling to let go of their youth.
Mac and Kelly (Rogen and Byrne) have a new baby and a new house, but can't quite wrap their juvenile-remnant mindsets around the idea that they've become the epitome of "lame," their word for all things unhip and uncool.
Their transitioning self-images are put to the test when a rowdy frat house moves in next door, run by ultra hunk Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), the president, and his loyal veep Pete (Dave Franco).
Mac and Kelly, worried that the frat house parties will keep them up all night, decide to be pre-emptive and befriend the frat boys. They all agree to be polite, respectful and quiet, but a quiet frat house? Who are they kidding?
When Teddy discovers that Mac and Kelly have called the cops on his noisy party, things become personal, and an unmerry war of four-letter words and destructive pranks begins. (Be warned: The movie's greatest surprise laugh is ruined by the trailers and commercials.)
Mac discovers that the university dean (Lisa Kudrow in a marvelous throwaway role as a PR-minded campus bureaucrat) has put the frat on probation. If he can just push Teddy and his brothers to launch one more big party, he'll win.
Funny, but far short of a comedy classic, "Neighbors" comes equipped with a glut of hyper-stylized hallucinogenic drug sequences that would work in 1960s counterculture movies.
It also offers some randy bits involving the frat brothers preparing casts of their own unmentionables, plus some questionably tasteless sight gags involving breast pumps and props we can't mention in a family newspaper.
Judd Apatow receives a "Special Thanks" during the closing credits, which only makes sense because his fingerprints can be found all over this movie, a near perfect cinematic clone for an Apatow production.
Main characters suffer from varying degrees of arrested development? Check.
Gross-out gags almost induce gagging? Check.
No villains? Check.
No matter how awful they seem, the characters earn our understanding and affection by the end? Check.
Yep. Sounds like vintage Apatow.
Rogen's days of playing a big kid in adult shoes may be closing fast, but he eeks out one more successful variation of his stock immature protagonist.
Byrne is an unexpected delight as a fiercely committed, foul-mouthed mother who spits swear words with the force of bullets.
The best surprise? Efron's Teddy, who evolves from a one-dimensional antagonist to a suddenly self-aware young man coming to the realization that being "lame" like that old guy Mac might just be his future.
Is that so bad?
Note: Stay during the closing credits to see little Stella's dress-up impressions of the other characters in her movie.