May 9, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: New parents, fraternity go to war in raucous 'Neighbors'

Zac Efron stars as the leader of a fraternity house who causes unexpected and hilarious difficulties after moving in next to a couple with a newborn baby. (Universal Pictures)

Who hasn’t had an obnoxious neighbor they wanted to go to war with?

What newly crowned adult discovering the joys of parenting hasn’t felt a longing for the good old days of irresponsibility?

Who hasn’t done Jell-O shots at a party filled with bikers, bums, college kids and hookers while garbage cans filled with marijuana burned, filling the house with smoke?

OK, maybe that last one is a stretch for some. But one thing that makes “Neighbors” so rich — and it is laugh aloud funny a great deal of the time — is that its characters and situations, while taken to extremes, are rooted in reality.

Another thing it has going on is an undercurrent of sweetness and real affection beneath the raunch and outrageousness. This is the balance that made “Bridesmaids” and “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” and most of the other modern excess comedies successful.

But the thing that may help the most is “Neighbors” knows its own limits and doesn’t aspire to be anything more than what it is — a suburban battle fantasy between two generations.

At 96 minutes, director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) isn’t reaching for any great truths; he’s just shooting for nonstop laughs broken up by some “aww” moments. And as such, he fully succeeds.

Meet Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), new parents who’ve just bought a home in some unnamed college town. Their baby, Stella (Elise and Zoey Vargas), is adorable. Kelly’s going a bit nuts as a stay-at-home mom, but that’s to be expected.

And then the house next door is rented to a fraternity, run by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco). Mac and Kelly want to show they’re hip, so they bring Stella over with a few welcome wagon joints and ask the guys to keep the noise down.

Soon enough, Mac and Kelly have been invited in, and they quickly revert to their preparenting partying roots. But the next day they have to return to their responsibilities.

Not so with the frat kids. So the party rages on. And on. When Mac and Kelly call an indifferent cop, the frat kids feel betrayed. And the volume simply gets turned up.

Eventually Mac and Kelly realize the only thing they can do is get the fraternity banned from school. So with the help of two recently divorced friends — Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo — they begin hatching plots.

The movie pauses here and there for parenting jokes, and one which finds Kelly’s breasts bursting with alcohol-tainted milk will likely be the cause for much rowdy discussion.

A good part of why “Neighbors” works is that the divide between the warring parties here is so slim — Teddy could easily be a father in a few years and Mac is still ready to party. It’s all a question of timing.

It’s been seven years since Rogen broke out with “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” in 2007. Since then, he’s made “Pineapple Express,” “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” “Funny People,” “50/50,” “Take This Waltz” and “This Is the End,” becoming the poster boy of sorts for modern comedies that stretch the boundaries of taste while also having some real human heart. Somehow Rogen never feels mean or cruel; he always feels human.

“Neighbors” fits right in with his best work. You laugh a lot. And you don’t feel guilty for a second.

'Neighbors'

GRADE: B+

Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity and drug use throughout

Running time: 96 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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