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Laramie Movie Scope:

Escalating pranks push R rating to the edge

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 10, 2014 -- This is the second movie starring Seth Rogen in as many years that has pushed the R rating about as far as it will go. The first one was “This is the End” in 2013. I was hoping this one would be funnier and would not have such despicable characters. Fortunately, it is funnier and the characters are not quite so awful.

I can't really blame the filmmakers (it is directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien) for pushing the limits of the MPAA rating system. This system is worse, in some ways, than the old Hays Code was. If you want to make money in the movie business, you have to make a G, PG, or PG-13-rated movie. These ratings are all aimed at kids, basically, and the rating system is controlled by parents who are not show business professionals. So the ratings system produces childish films, rather than films aimed at adults. Of the top 15 box office hits last year, only one (“The Heat”) was R-Rated. The rest were all G, PG or PG-13. It is like the Disney Channel is making the majority of wide-release movies in this country.

“Neighbors” is an R-rated film, but it isn't really aimed at adults either. A lot of the jokes and pranks in the movie are child to teen level material, even though there is sex, nudity, profanity and drug use in it. This is a movie about a loud fraternity which moves into a residential neighborhood (no zoning laws here) and starts causing loud noise and other troubles for the family next door. Both sides of this conflict start a series of childish pranks that escalates and soon gets out of control, leading to injuries and property damage.

The family, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) along with their baby daughter, Stella, tries to get along with the fraternity, headed by Teddy Sanders and Pete (Zac Efron and Dave Franco) but their efforts fail. A war of pranks starts after Mac calls the cops. The policeman (played by Hannibal Buress) behaves in a very strange way and tells Mac never to call the police again. Most cops in these kinds of movies are dumb characters. Buress plays a cop who is actually in on the joke, at least part of the time. With the law out of the way, that leaves the situation up to vigilante justice.

The pranks involve property damage, obscene shrubbery trimming, air bag booby traps, forgery, an attempt to split up the leadership of the fraternity using jealousy and an attempt to incite excessive hazing. The fraternity manages to get the best of their neighbors with a dubious penis sclupture sale scheme. Surprisingly, the movie doesn't stop here with the escalating series of pranks. The movie develops these characters with more depth and complexity than I expected.

There is a homoerotic subplot between the fraternity brothers Teddy and Pete. There is even a hint at such an attraction between Teddy and Mac. Teddy, whose main goal in life is to have a party of historic proportions at the fraternity, shows signs of growing up during the course of the film. He comes to the realization that maybe he should have studied in college. He also becomes jealous of his best friend, Pete, who seems to have a much more promising career path as an adult.

There is also some unexpected depth in the relationship between Mac and Kelly, but this subplot doesn't work as well as the relationship between Teddy and Pete. Teddy is worried that he might become like Mac in the future -- a future of no fun. Mac is jealous of the fraternity boys because he used to be like them and now he fears he may never have that much fun again. Mac and Kelly both attend a fraternity party in the movie and they fit into that scene surprisingly well.

While I was disappointed this film wasn't as funny as I hoped it would be, the unexpected depth of the characters and the growth of the characters to a level slightly beyond adolescence elevates this film to a level of sophistication slightly higher than you would expect from this kind of vulgar material. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2014 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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