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‘Neighbors’: My big fat Greek fretting

New parents Kelly (Rose Byrne) Mac (Seth Rogen) are alarmed when fraternity moves next door.  |  UNIVERSAL PICTURES

New parents Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac (Seth Rogen) are alarmed when a fraternity moves in next door. | UNIVERSAL PICTURES

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‘NEIGHBORS’ ★★★

Mac Radner Seth Rogen

Teddy Sanders Zac Efron

Kelly Radner Rose Byrne

Pete Dave Franco

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien. Running time: 97 minutes. Rated R (for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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Fraternities don’t get much love in the movies, unless we’re talking about the stories of underdog, rogue frats: “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “Revenge Of the Nerds,” “Old School.”

The rest of the time, fraternities are the headquarters for misogynistic yahoos who think they invented drinking, or secret organizations involving mysterious rituals where the occasional murder occurs and is then covered up because Daddy’s a United States senator and he’ll fix it.

(Sororities in the movies? That’s where girls get naked and/or murdered. It rarely goes much deeper than that.)

One of the things I liked about “Neighbors” was the way the film embraced the usual dopey stereotypes about frats while also giving us at least a little bit of perspective and insight. Even some of the most dedicated members of this particular fraternity realize the ridiculousness of the rituals they’re supposed to take so seriously.

Helmed with terrific timing by Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), with a hit-and-miss screenplay by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien that does feature a couple of priceless visual gags and some sharp one-liners, “Neighbors” is an obviously implausible but likable comedy pitting “bros against breeders.”

In a bit of inspired casting, Seth Rogen, who just two minutes ago was playing irresponsible stoners in a series of movies, is now suddenly the grumpy old man, at least relatively speaking. Rogen’s Mac Radner and Rose Byrne’s Kelly Radner are new parents marveling at every little thing the baby does — and shocked at how exhausting it is to be responsible for a tiny human every second of their lives. (In one hilarious sequence, Mac and Kelly get fired up for a big night on the town to prove they can still rage — but the mere process of getting ready wears them out.)

When the Delta Psi fraternity moves in next door, Mac and Kelly are alarmed, but they’re determined to play it cool. Better to bond with the new neighbors and casually ask them to keep it down at night than to go all old-school narc and call the cops on ’em, right?

Zac Efron, shirtless through much of the film and sculpted to the point he looks like an entrant in Mr. Universe, Small But Mighty Division, plays Teddy Sanders, one of those guys who knows exactly how great-looking he is and exactly how to turn on the personality to seduce people, whether it’s for sex or “bromance” or to get out of trouble with authority figures. He’s one of those guys you want to despise, but then you meet him and you find yourself saying to the haters, “He’s actually not so bad.”

After a night of epic partying with the frat, Mac and Kelly congratulate themselves for befriending their neighbors — but when the madness starts up just as loud and long the next night, Mac calls the cops.

So starts the war.

Some of the hijinks are of the inspired lunacy variety, e.g., the entire frat dressing up as various Robert De Niro characters and taunting the Radners, or theft of the air bags from the Radners car. Teddy goes dark, but the Radners go just as low, at one point setting the stage for Teddy’s best friend Pete (Dave Franco) to sleep with Teddy’s girlfriend. (It’s not the movie’s finest moment that the girlfriend character seems to disappear from the planet after she’s used as a plot device.)

When Mac and Kelly are home, trying to catch sleep or cuddling in bed or spontaneously having sex (“This is happening!” cries Mac) only to be distracted by their newborn, “Neighbors” seems authentic. A couple of scenes between Teddy and Pete, where Pete tells Teddy it’s time to wake up and grow up and think about life beyond the frat house, also ring true.

The rest of the time, this is an R-rated cartoon. An attempt to explain why the other neighbors aren’t calling the cops on the frat is ridiculous. The parties are so out of control, they’d be on the nightly news. Kelly’s behavior at one of the parties would probably have Mac considering divorce. The inevitable fight between Mac and Teddy, involving plaster casts of the frat members’, um, members, probably seemed funnier during filming than it really is.

And don’t even get me started on the discarded condom scene.

Hey. We know what we’re getting here from the poster and the TV ads. Raunchy, deliberately tasteless, cringe-while-you-laugh material. About 40 percent of “Neighbors” falls flat. About 60 percent made me laugh hard, even when I knew I should have known better.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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