I blame Jason Biggs getting frisky with an apple-based dessert. Until 1999, gross-out comedies were few and far between; Kevin Smith would release another entry in his View Askewniverse every few years and, in those days, Adam Sandler was still funny, but that was about it. Since American Pie made enough money to wipe out the world’s financial problems, gross-out comedies have appeared at the cinema year-on-year. There has been the odd classic, pride-of-place amongst DVD collections (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Bridesmaids) but most have been a fun while they last, instantly forgettable ninety minutes. There has also been the odd humourless car crash (School for Scoundrels: all the gags were in the trailer, the rest of its running time was a laugh-free zone).
Bad Neighbours is the first of a number of gross-out comedies to be released in 2014 (Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, and sequels 22 Jump Street and The Inbetweeners 2 are all on their way). New parents Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne find their peaceful, non-eventful lives trampled on when Zac Efron’s sex, drugs and alcohol-fuelled fraternity move in next door; Rogen and Byrne thinking up all sorts of creative (borderline nuts) ways to get their new neighbours to move along. While Bad Neighbours doesn’t re-invent the wheel, what makes it stands out amongst this over-crowded sub-genre is that each and every one-liner and visual gag is side-splittingly funny. It’s only May and Bad Neighbours already has some of the funniest set pieces you will see this year. A recurring gag involving stolen car airbags will never fail to make cinema audiences roar with laughter, while a scene involving Rogen being forced to milk his wife will burn itself into your memory for all the wrong reasons.
What helps to make Bad Neighbours one of the better comedies is the chemistry between its cast. Rogen and Byrne are a true-to-life couple: they’re still the party animals from when they both met as students, but they’re new parents with responsibilities. They’re too tired to go on nights out and, on those rare moments when they do have sex, it lasts for a couple of minutes instead of a couple of hours. Usually in comedies, wife roles don’t get to do all that much except smile lots and make sure they’re always in full make up. To screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’ Brien’s credit, Byrne gets more than her fair share of laughs, being right in the middle of the Radner family’s scheming and delivering plenty of well-observed, foul mouthed one-liners.
Zac Efron, playing up to his bad boy image in the tabloids, also manages to make the laughs look easy. Some of Efron’s ideas to get revenge on Rogen and Byrne are cruel, but they are memorable, and they are definitely funny. The reason you like, even root for, Efron is because, like Rogen, he has a family he cares about, Dave Franco’s vice president being like a brother to him; only his family is a bunch of students whose only worry is where their next beer comes from.
What stops Bad Neighbours from reaching the heights of The Inbetweeners Movie or Ted is that no one in this film changes in any way. While all three leads will keep you watching, the film is an hour-and-a-half of sketch-after-sketch. Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids was cringe-inducingly honest about female friendships and the strain they come under in the run-up to a wedding; for all its dick and fart jokes, Superbad was about three friends saying goodbye to their high school years. Cohen and Brien’s script is good, but it isn’t that good; Bad Neighbours is all about the dick and fart jokes, there’s nothing underneath the surface. That’s not a bad thing – you would have to be a cold shell of a human being not to be laughing virtually the whole way through the film – but if a comedy can make you think as well as laugh, then it gets extra points from me.
If you want a comedy with crude, but very, very smart laughs, then Bad Neighbours is well worth your time and, while it’s not quite up there with the likes of The Hangover, you’ll be glad you gave it a go.
4 out of 5