Sunday, May 11, 2014

Penis Adulation, Forever And Ever Amen

Rose Byrne as Kelly and Seth Rogen as Mac in Nicholas Stoller's comedy "Neighbors".

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Sunday, May 11, 2014

"What happened here?", is the principal question I asked myself after watching Nicholas Stoller's comedy "Neighbors", a pointless film in every sense of that word.  "What the hell is this?" I asked throughout.  Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac (Seth Rogen) are married and approaching forty with an adorable newborn daughter.  New in a quiet suburban neighborhood the couple's own inner children are poised to be unleashed sloppily, sleepily and in bouts of playful, interrupted sex.  

Sex and parental responsibility soon vanish from Mac and Kelly's routine and it's all Masterpenis Theater all the time once a Delta Psi fraternity moves into the unnamed city neighborhood.  The frat lives for fun, drugs, booze and penises.  Delta Psi high decibel levels rarely subside.  Oddly, the other residents don't complain.  Their integrity is too low to mount a fight.  Money isn't needed to buy their silence.  Everyone must be wearing noise-cancelling headphones except Mac and Kelly.  They are the lone complainers about the relentless frat noise but like "Neighbors" itself Kelly and Mac's dissent is really about their itching to participate in the wild parties and leave parenting behind.  (This couple doth protest too much.)  Teddy (Zac Efron) and the Delta Psi he leads square off against Kelly and Mac.  It's war.  Battle of the penises begins.  (There's an occasional breast intervention or two.)

"Neighbors" looks as if it is shot from the perspective of a drunken frat house pledge, trying to impress his prospective brothers prior to an inevitable hazing.  Yet I was the one hazed, for just over 90 minutes, with a barrage of penis jokes that weren't even smart enough to make sense, along with racial epithets and stereotypical jabs.  And did I mention penises?  Isn't just one enough?  Had vaginas been on constant display I'd have felt the same way.  The point: "Neighbors" lives for its crude, nasty nothingness and does everything in the mean-spirited extreme. 

A hybrid of "Wanderlust", "The Change-Up", "Project X" and "21 & Over", "Neighbors" runs on two gears: ribald and gross.  Mr. Stoller's latest will work wonders primarily for the 15-year-old male audience its mentality reflects, but I don't even know if too many 15-year-old boys today think on this film's level.  Teenage boys' hormones rage, yes, but am I naive in thinking that their level of crude approaches the fish-in-a-barrel toilet bowl trash targets "Neighbors" aims for?

Pete (Dave Franco) is Teddy's best buddy and their homoerotic air may be a juvenile comedic take on the Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal relationship in "Y Tu Mama Tambien".  Pete conveys Erect-A-Set phallic pride on cue.  It's a special power he can't help.  He thinks it's a curse but the film proudly wears it as an anthem, at one point around a woman's neck.  Teddy is a "bimbo" type, a narcissist who is a walking decoration of shallow.  Teddy isn't even "dumb" enough to be a "jock".  He's dumber.  He's not good at anything, and his streamlined physique represents the blank slate of his existence.  "Neighbors" dumbs down accordingly.

The genre of teen male Hollywood comedies has fallen like an albatross over the years.  "Animal House", "Fast Times At Ridgemont High", "Revenge Of The Nerds" and "Porky's" were decent in their time.  In the late 1990s "American Pie", which hardly left much to the imagination, was at least funny.  The characters were types with a heart, a semblance of a soul, a mushy adorableness, and some warmth.  As the sequels followed the warmth eroded, the voices grew shrill, the jokes got stale, and the gags were prurient but excessively gross.  The base gags stood-in for any pretense of story or logic. 

"Superbad" and "There's Something About Mary" were two of the few films lately that retained an odd tenderness amidst hijinks.  "Superbad", which featured Mr. Rogen in a small role, worked for that reason and a few others.  It didn't rely on grossness as its express existence.  But at some point, virtually all of these films lately (including "Anchorman 2") look and behave the same.  The only difference is that "Neighbors" is one of the worst, most meaningless films of the year.

Mr. Stoller's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" wasn't bad (he's also directed the more or less forgettable "Get Him To The Greek" among others), but his "Neighbors" is part of the genus that sinks this increasingly unimaginative genre below its previously lowest rung.  The obviousness of the straight white male film comedy character obsession with penises becomes such a sledgehammer in many films.  Is something deeper afoot?  "Neighbors" argues it seems, that the penis isn't just the only thing the shallow men in the film think with -- it's the only thing they have to hold onto before they get out into the big wide world that awaits.  And it's the only thing they value, large or small.  Here, private parts stand-in for comedy, and they are a lazy, repetitive, assaultive punch-line.
Also with: Ike Barinholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael, Carla Gallo, Halston Sage, Craig Roberts, Andy Samberg.

"Neighbors" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout.  The film's running time is one hour and 36 minutes.

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