BRIGHT (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: David Ayer

Written by: Max Landis

Starring: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, Edgar Ramirez, Ike Barinholtz, Happy Anderson, Dawn Olivieri, Matt Gerald, Margaret Cho & Brad William Henke

Whether or not you’ve actually seen it, you’ve likely heard something about Netflix’s BRIGHT by now. This fantasy-crime film is the streaming service’s first attempt at huge blockbuster entertainment (sporting a budget of around 90 million dollars) and quickly became one of the most-watched programs in Netflix history. BRIGHT left a lot of polarized reactions in its wake, with some people outright hating it and others calling it a fun gem. I fall somewhere in the middle. This film has surprisingly great moments alongside heavy-handed attempts at obvious social commentary. Without further ado, let’s get into the nitty gritty of why BRIGHT isn’t as bright as it thinks it is.

In a world much like our own, except it’s also populated by orcs, elves, and fairies, Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is a human police officer who’s wary of his orc partner Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). A few months ago, Ward was shot on the job by an orc and he currently believes that Jakoby might have let the suspect go out of orc brotherhood ties. When the mismatched pair of police officers come across a grisly crime scene, they find quiet elf girl Leilah (Lucy Fry) and a magic wand (the equivalent of a wish-granting nuke). Word soon hits the streets that the human-orc pair are in possession of the magic wand. This means that Ward and Jakoby are running for their lives from corrupt cops, gun-wielding gangsters, brutal orcs, and a mysterious group of stab-happy elves. Also, there’s something about a vague prophecy, but you can likely guess where that is going.

Credit where credit is due, BRIGHT has well-shot action sequences. Though the film’s first third is slow and filled with groan-worthy moments (more on those in a minute), the last two-thirds run at a non-stop fast pace as soon as the wand comes into play. Director David Ayer knows how to competently shoot action scenes and that talent still comes across in this film…as silly and cliched as the material might be. The visuals are slick and it’s clear that a lot of money was poured into this project. This is Netflix’s biggest production so far and it shows. With a sequel already greenlit, it’s obvious that the company was impressed by what Ayer was able to pull off.

Even though it drops the ball on numerous occasions, BRIGHT contains a few creative concepts that are a lot of fun. The idea of a magic wand as a weapon of mass destruction sounds silly, but fits right into this over-the-top crime-ridden fantasy world. The idea that fairies are treated as insect-like pests and that stereotypes are attributed to thuggish orcs and aristocratic elves is dumb fun. However, BRIGHT really falters in its half-assed world building because certain developments are just plain confusing. Apparently, the Alamo did happen and SHREK still exists in this world…despite there being orcs, elves, magic, and clearly forces that are larger than humans. Is SHREK the equivalent of a really racist cartoon to these orcs? Inquiring minds (mostly my own) want to know.

BRIGHT gets really sloppy in its not-so-subtle social commentary, which is heavy-handed beyond belief. David Ayer has made powerful statements in past films. TRAINING DAY dove into horrifying corruption in law enforcement and how gangs can hold a code of their own to protect moral people in the right circumstances (highlighted by the powerful final moments that will forever be burned into my mind). FURY dove into the unrelenting terror of World War II and just how hopeless combat must have seemed for soldiers (regardless of how much brotherhood they felt during battle). BRIGHT basically tries to dive into what TRAINING DAY did, but nearly rips off parts of the former in many key moments. One particular scene seems directly lifted from TRAINING DAY’s intense, unforgettable final third of TRAINING DAY…but with orcs are involved and a magic wand.

As the supposedly racist cop who actually seems like a flawed (decent enough) protagonist, Will Smith elicits a few laughs and delivers enough charisma in his performance. Joel Edgerton (hidden under layers of make-up and bad CGI) fumbles with his part as the dorky orc officer. Part of the reason for my annoyance with Edgerton’s orc comes as a direct result of the character himself. However, other complaints come from Edgerton’s wooden delivery of certain lines. It’s like he knows that this is ridiculously stupid and just needed a quick paycheck (hopefully to pave the way for better films like his underrated directorial debut THE GIFT).

At the end of the day, BRIGHT is about as predictable as films can get. As soon as a supporting character delivers obvious exposition (and then is immediately forgotten about afterwards), the viewer can accurately guess one huge “surprise” in the final act. This plot development feels like a further slap in the face to the viewer, aside from the fact that this film runs at two hours and easily could have been trimmed by around 30 minutes. BRIGHT really drops the ball in its misguided attempts at social commentary (racism is signified by a childish “Kick Me!” sign on an orc’s back), sloppy world building, paper-thin characters, and piss-poor writing. The pace is fast, some of the spectacle looks good, and the action scenes are fun. However, the positives and negatives balance each other out for a strictly apathetic middle-of-the-road experience. Nothing more, nothing less.

Grade: C

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and Action

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Directed by: Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly

Written by: Mikael Hed, Mikko Polla & John Cohen

(based on the video game ANGRY BIRDS by Rovio Entertainment)

Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key & Blake Shelton

I wasn’t expecting THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE to be great. After all, this film is based on an addicting cell phone app. That’s the current state of the film industry though, where a TETRIS trilogy gets greenlit and an EMOJI MOVIE is currently in production. I watched ANGRY BIRDS with hopes that it might be serviceable family entertainment. Not up to Disney or Pixar standards, but somewhere along the lines of a lesser DreamWorks film. I was horribly mistaken. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is one of the worst animated films I’ve seen in a long time and it’s not like this film doesn’t have good production values behind it either. ANGRY BIRDS features a talented voice cast and has solid animation, but the script is offensively lazy and a large portion of the jokes fall flat.

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On the aptly named Bird Island, easily infuriated Red (Jason Sudeikis) has been sentenced to anger management. In this frustrating program, the red flightless bird reluctantly befriends speedy Chuck (Josh Gad) and explosive Bomb (Danny McBride). Red’s anger management classes encounter unexpected turbulence when a mysterious ship arrives, filled with green pigs. The pigs are led by charismatic leader Leonard (Bill Hader), who quickly becomes popular in the bird community. However, Red becomes suspicious of these pigs and is written off as paranoid by his fellow feathered citizens. Soon enough, the outcast trio of angry birds become the only hope for Bird Island’s unhatched eggs.

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To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t exactly sold on ANGRY BIRDS being a film from the get-go. The marketing was lame, but I heard a few surprisingly positive reviews and the animation looked good. This film was made by Finnish company Rovio Entertainment, the very same company that made the ANGRY BIRDS app to begin with, and currently holds the record for the largest budget in Finnish film history. Apparently those investments paid off for them, because this film banked at the box office and there’s already a sequel in the works. Why am I discussing the production of this film, rather than the qualities of the movie itself? Well, those details seem remarkably more interesting than anything I can really say about this dull slog of wasted animation.

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The film’s story seems to be making itself up as it goes along, with many filler scenes before the all too brief conflict between angry birds and green pigs. This film seems like an origin story for the ANGRY BIRDS universe, but forgets part of why that game was so enjoyable in the first place. You’re launching birds at evil green pigs to retrieve eggs. This movie takes over an hour before it finally reaches that point, not that it necessarily would have been better to watch birds vs. pigs for an hour of screen time. What I’m getting at is that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE runs way too long. This film could have easily been shortened by 20 or 30 minutes and it would have made for a less painful experience.

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The film’s talented voice cast is completely wasted on bottom-of-the-barrel potty humor and pop culture references. Both of those can be well-executed in kid’s films, but ANGRY BIRDS drops the ball numerous times. There’s a forced SHINING reference with two pigs, a Calvin Klein ad with a pig, cholesterol jokes and plenty of substituted profanity (e.g. “Peck my life” and “Shell yes”). Are we laughing yet? Well, if those don’t do it for you, surely you’ll be rolling in the aisle from lame bird puns, a sequence of a snot-nosed bird flying through the air and smearing mucus everywhere, butts being thrown into other birds faces, and an elongated pee joke that’s already been spoiled in the trailer. It’s a wonder that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE wound up hitting 3,932 theaters, because this thing feels like it should be debuting direct-to-video in Redbox and discount Wal-Mart bins.

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Are there any redeeming qualities to ANGRY BIRDS? Well, two adult-aimed jokes are genuinely clever and the animation is fun to look at. I’m not going to pretend like I’m the target audience for THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE, because I’m clearly not. However, THE LEGO MOVIE also sounded stupid in theory and wound up being one of the best films of 2014. It’s possible to make any idea, regardless of how idiotic and stupid it sounds, into a great or fun film, if there’s enough talent, effort and love thrown into the project. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is not that kind of movie. Instead, this lazy cash-grab will probably occupy bored children for 97 minutes, but likely won’t do much for teenage viewers and adults.

Grade: D

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Violence and Action throughout, Disturbing Behavior, Suggestive Content and Language

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Directed by: David Ayer

Written by: David Ayer

(based on the SUICIDE SQUAD comics by John Ostrander)

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood & Ben Affleck

SUICIDE SQUAD has been one of my most anticipated films of 2016. It should be mentioned that I wasn’t exactly sold on Jared Leto’s Joker and strongly disliked BATMAN v SUPERMAN. Still, there was something about this supervillain team-up film that had me stoked! The marketing was great and showcased crazy energy that would be essential for a movie like this. Though generally negative reviews have gotten this third DC Extended Cinematic Universe entry rated lower than BATMAN v SUPERMAN on Rotten Tomatoes, I had a blast watching SUICIDE SQUAD. The film isn’t free of flaws (all of which I’ll discuss in a moment), but it also has a lot of things to like! So far, this is my favorite installment of the new DC Cinematic Universe.

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In response to the world’s growing superhuman phenomenon, government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of very bad people who she believes can do some good. This secret task force, dubbed the Suicide Squad, is led by hard-headed veteran Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) with sword-wielding Katana (Karen Fukuhara) at his side. Under Flagg’s command are: psycho-clown Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), sharp-shooter Deadshot (Will Smith), human torch El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), drunken bloke Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), human-reptile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and grappling expert Slipknot (Adam Beach). This ragtag team of supervillains must work together if they wish to save the world from the evil Enchantress (Cara Delevingne).

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The main quality that sets SUICIDE SQUAD apart from tons of other superhero films is that these protagonists are out-and-out supervillains. These characters committed horrible crimes in their past and don’t necessarily feel bad about any of the evil things they’ve done. Instead of saving the day for the right reasons and out of the goodness of their hearts, these bad guys wish to regain their freedom and aren’t above contemplating plenty of ways to murder Flagg and escape. Instead of being a story of good vs. evil, SUICIDE SQUAD is all about bad vs. worse.

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As far as the team members go, there are definite stand-outs, cool supporting characters and disappointingly glorified cameos. The best performances come from Margot Robbie as fan favorite Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Deadshot. Both of these Batman villains have never been featured in a live-action blockbuster before and they make a grand big-screen entrance here. Margot Robbie remarkably encapsulates every mannerism that Harley Quinn has in the comics and cartoons, while also doing a perfect voice for the character. Will Smith actually gains a bit of sympathy as Deadshot by playing the assassin as a loving father who happens to earn money from heartlessly executing people.

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Jay Hernandez delivers unexpected humanity as former gangster turned peaceful pyro El Diablo. This character was given more development than the other supporting characters thanks to a well-executed tragic backstory. El Diablo’s reluctance to engage in violence makes him an interesting character to watch. Meanwhile, Jai Courtney brings his best performance yet (not exactly high praise) as comical Captain Boomerang. This character got the biggest laughs out of me, even more than Harley Quinn. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc doesn’t get much to do aside from looking cool in the background. Meanwhile, Viola Davis is solid as amoral Amanda Waller and Joel Kinnaman is likable enough as Rick Flagg.

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Though it’s a lot of fun and very entertaining, SUICIDE SQUAD has major problems in two big areas: the villain and the editing. Concerning the former, Enchantress is cool to look at. The constant special effects surrounding her, the mindless drones she controls, and the magical havoc are all very neat to the eyes. However, her motivation is nothing more than the typical world domination that we’ve already seen plenty of times from other supervillains, especially in the past couple of years (e.g. Ultron, Dr. Doom, and Apocalypse). In the end, she’s a generic villain with an awesome look.

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As for the sloppy editing, that’s a direct result of Warner Brothers’ desperation after BATMAN v SUPERMAN slightly underperformed at the box office. In an effort to combat the possibility of SUICIDE SQUAD flopping and disappointing more people, multiple cuts of this movie were made and then glued together in the messy theatrical version. This isn’t annoying to a degree where the movie is outright terrible or bad, but it’s definitely noticeable. For instance, Viola Davis gets five seconds of voice-over narration in the prologue and never receives any more throughout the entire running time. In a far more egregious decision, every Joker scene seems butchered or totally excised from the film. I still can’t tell you what I honestly thought of Jared Leto’s new take on the clown prince of crime, because I’ve less than five minutes of screen time from him.

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Even with its undeniable problems taken into consideration, SUICIDE SQUAD remains a thoroughly enjoyable summer movie filled with energy, cool visuals and humor that works. It’s a crazy comic book flick that definitely could (and should) have been better, but functions on being fun and entertaining! I’ll take that over dull, dreary and bloated any day of the week!

Grade: B

NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude Sexual Content including brief Graphic Nudity, Language throughout, Drug Use and Teen Partying

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Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Written by: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse & Selena Gomez

2014’s NEIGHBORS wound up being one of Seth Rogen’s better comedies in recent years. Mixing juvenile dick jokes with a smart script and well-developed characters, that film was an instant box office hit. Where there’s financial success, a sequel is likely in development. Sure enough, two years have passed and now we have NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING. Most comedy sequels try way too hard to replicate the original’s success. NEIGHBORS 2 definitely treads old ground, but does so with the heart that made the first film enjoyable to begin with.

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Set two years after the first film, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) now have a two-year-old daughter, are pregnant with a second child, and have entered a 30-day escrow on selling their house. Before they can sign the final paperwork, the couple make a horrifying, all-too-familiar discovery: a hard-partying sorority has moved next door. Kappa Nu, led by rebellious Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), wants to stick it to a sexist system and has no intention of toning down their drunken bashes. Mac and Kelly’s former strategies of neighborly warfare against the fraternity are no use against Kappa Nu, because the sorority sisters have entirely different methods of messing with the couple. Mac and Kelly need help and that’s when former frat leader/wild card Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) comes back into their lives.

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Running at a brisk 92 minutes, NEIGHBORS 2 juggles three storylines. The main attraction is, of course, the territorial war between a desperate couple and the drunken sorority. SORORITY RISING does a decent job of introducing slightly new twists and executing fresh gross-out gags. One act of vandalism is simultaneously disgusting and hilarious, especially when one character points out the hypocrisy of another person’s reaction to it. This sequel’s main plot runs very similar to the first film, repeating familiar beats, but remains entertaining nonetheless. Smaller storylines come in Teddy wanting to be valued by his mature former frat brothers and Kappa Nu’s rebellion against a system stacked against them. These subplots attempt to inject heart into the crude proceedings and reach mixed degrees of success.

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Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, and Carla Gallo slip right back into their characters with ease. Rogen and Byrne are especially funny as the desperate couple, whose situation is far more dire this time around (their lives and money are actually at stake). Efron and Franco expand on their solid bromance that was already established in the first film. Barinholtz and Gallo receive a few memorable moments as side comic relief, though their parts in this sequel are far smaller than they were in the original film.

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The Kappa Nu neighbors are played by Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, and Beanie Feldstein. Moretz has already made a name for herself and starred in films that range all over the map in quality. As Shelby, she’s allowed to return to R-rated, profanity-laced territory that marked her most famous role (Hit Girl in KICK-ASS). Moretz’s sorority leader is fun to watch and makes a formidable antagonist for Mac and Kelly. Clemons and Feldstein are less well-known and both receive a handful of comedic highlights. Clemons does well as Shelby’s best friend, while Feldstein is a former straight-laced student reveling in drugs.

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NEIGHBORS 2 occasionally struggles in its pacing. Because the film is juggling three separate plots (while the original had two), it doesn’t exactly give itself enough wiggle room to milk the maximum level of laughs out of its premise. You can spot scenes in the film’s trailers that don’t appear in the movie at all, which leads me to believe that there’s about 10 minutes of footage on the cutting room floor. These excised moments might have made the film more cohesive as Hannibal Buress’ Officer Watkins makes a return in this sequel, but it’s only for one throwaway joke…while the trailer shows him in a deleted scene that went to another chaotic level. In one surprising improvement, this sequel actually had a better conclusion than the original film. The final minutes balance out a sweet level of parenthood/sisterhood/brotherhood and maintain a good amount of crude jokes. It was a good last note to go out on in an otherwise decent movie.

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NEIGHBORS 2 is very much a repeat of the first film, but adds some new twists to keep things entertaining. The pacing stumbles a bit and as a result, this sequel will most likely be forgotten within a week’s time. On the positive side of things, Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein are great new antagonists and have a compelling subplot of their own. In the end, NEIGHBORS 2 isn’t nearly as bad as other recent comedy sequels (e.g. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2, TED 2), but doesn’t reach the heats of the original and feels like a mere rehash (think slightly better than HORRIBLE BOSSES 2). If you liked the first NEIGHBORS, then you’ll likely enjoy NEIGHBORS 2 to some extent.

Grade: B-

NEIGHBORS (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, Strong Crude and Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, and Drug Use throughout

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Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Written by: Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O’Brien

Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco & Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Never in my wildest dreams have I imagined a comedy that would headline both Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, yet here we are in 2014 and this film is guaranteed to be a comedy hit of the summer. NEIGHBORS makes no qualms about the kind of movie it is. It’s earns its R rating with glee and frequently relies on profanity, bodily functions, and dick jokes. What one might not expect is that the film often does so with fleshed-out characters and a smart script. The story is raunchy, but oddly sweet in some respects. The film is also very, very funny! Paced at a perfect 96 minute running time, this is a great film to kick back, relax and get some huge laughs out of.

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Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are two college sweethearts making that awkward transition into the real adulthood. They own a cozy house and are the proud parents of an adorable baby girl. The house next door is up for sale and the couple are curiously watching potential buyers/new neighbors. What they don’t expect is a fraternity populated with tons of “brothers” showing up to buy the place. After seemingly getting off on the right foot with the frat president Teddy (Zac Efron), things take a turn for the worse after Mac calls the cops with a noise complaint on their loud next door neighbors. The tides turn and any possible chance of a friendly relationship with the frat is severed. With the college boys making their life a living hell at every turn (vandalizing property and blasting loud music every night of the week), Mac and Kelly bring on a full-scale domestic war upon the heads of these punks…which escalates to insane heights.

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For the ridiculous levels that things spiral out of control, NEIGHBORS has remarkable skill with its characters. Not every joke revolves around the ludicrous circumstances between the couple and the frat. Plenty of scenes revolve around the couple themselves coping with the unexpected stress of parenthood. Quite a few moments also showcase the inner workings of the fraternity. It’s also worth noting that the frat house occupants aren’t played off as one-joke stereotypes. There are some typical traits associated with these characters, but the bromance between Zac Efron and Dave Franco’s characters seemed genuine. Some very good points are made about generational gaps and the stigma that comes with growing up. It’s not like the film was profoundly deep or anything along those lines, but the story was painted with a layer of reality that made everything so much funnier than it already was. As a couple, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have believable chemistry. They equally balanced being immature idiots and concerned parents. Every one of these touches ultimately made nearly every character compelling in their own way.

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NEIGHBORS does frequently resort to crude jokes to get laughs. They are lots of sex jokes, dick references, and a scene involving breast milk that is frankly quite disgusting. Things aren’t all about the shock value though. The film never lowers itself as just a cash-in for idiots who still laugh at their own farts. There are a lot of clever interactions between the couple and the fraternity. Where the film stumbles a bit comes in the final minutes. It seems like the story had been told and the film was ready to end, but that the filmmaker and writers didn’t know how to close it out. Instead of remaining consistent with the same energy that was present for the entire movie up to that point, the film seems to lose some steam. It ultimately winds down on a silly note that had good intentions, but didn’t necessarily leave me completely satisfied. As a side note, some scenes on display in the trailers/TV spots aren’t in the film at all. They are sure to appear in the eventual Unrated version, but it’s kind of misleading to throw those into the marketing (even the most recent commercials).

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Nobody is expecting NEIGHBORS to be high art and it isn’t. This is the kind of R-rated comedy that someone heads into with the expectations of getting some solid laughs at immature antics. There are plenty of those on display, but the script doesn’t settle at that point and carves out some well-developed characters as well. The movie is equally as clever as it is crude. I highly enjoyed NEIGHBORS for what it was and recommend the film to fans of Seth Rogen comedies. It’s definitely in your wheelhouse if you’re a fan of that charismatic man-child (I am one of those fans). These are some NEIGHBORS worth visiting.

Grade: B+

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