BAD NEIGHBOURS (R21)
97 minutes/Opens tomorrow/****
The story: Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a couple with a new baby, coming to terms with the end of their social lives. New people move in next door. They turn out to be a men's fraternity, the Delta Psi Beta, headed by the charismatic Teddy (Zac Efron), assisted by Pete (Dave Franco). Mac and Kelly, concerned that the boys will disrupt the peace, try to extract from them a promise of good behaviour.
The premise - frat boys versus grown-ups - sounds like an idea lifted from Adam Sandler's big fat book of stupid movie concepts.
But this work proves that in good comedy, premise is secondary to characters and believable situations.
Here, the distressed parents Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) want peace and quiet, but they also fear being viewed by the young frat brothers as crotchety party-poopers.
They are, in a word, neurotic, in a way that rings true for this generation of young adults who fear turning into the same kind of people as their parents.
Director Nicholas Stoller comes to the project from other character-driven comedies, one of them good (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 2008), one borderline (The Five-Year Engagement, 2012) and one terrible (Get Him To The Greek, 2010, featuring Russell Brand at his most annoying).
While Mac and Kelly dither and scheme to get the boys next door to behave, the frat brothers are unable to let go of their immature selves. Teddy (Efron) is aware that this is as good as it gets; it is all downhill after university.
The jokes here start smart, as the two parties scope each other out, putting on false fronts to achieve their aims. But as tensions between the two rise, the humour becomes zanier, more physical and, yes, more genital and scatalogically based. But the bits are no less funny for being dirty.
Efron is very good as the fraternity president with a Peter Pan complex while Byrne, with her natural Aussie accent on full display, is terrific as the hipster parent who turns Tiger Mum when the chips are down. Rogen is, well, Rogen, but that essence of gentle man-boy works very well here.
The film earns a hard R21 rating for nudity, sexual content and drug use. The recreational chemicals, in fact, are an uncredited character here, so much so that it leads one to wonder how Teddy keeps his washboard abs; at the rate he parties, he should be as rotund as John Belushi in Animal House (1978).