Video Verdict: Reviews of ‘Neighbors’ and ‘The Rover’

Zac Efron, left, Seth Rogen, middle, and Rose Byrne star in “Neighbors”  Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Zac Efron, left, Seth Rogen, middle, and Rose Byrne star in “Neighbors”

Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

This week’s major home video releases include an apocalyptic drama from the director of “Animal Kingdom” and a broad comedy featuring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron.

Neighbors

2½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Nicholas Stoller’s work as a director has been on a steady decline since he helmed the surprising and wonderful 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” That film, written by star Jason Segel, was funny, original and anchored by great performances.

For “Neighbors,” Stoller assembled another terrific cast, but the players are saddled with a schizophrenic screenplay that wants to be edgy yet refuses to take risks. The movie is littered with nudity, sex gags and drug humor, all of which are hallmarks of Stoller’s previous films, including “Get Him to the Greek” and “The Five-Year Engagement.” Trouble is, “Neighbors” doesn’t use these elements to bolster its story; it relies on them.

Stoller doesn’t deserve full blame because the Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien screenplay was destined for failure. Behind the gratuitous swearing and nudity, “Neighbors” is a simple feud comedy, and the humor should come from watching the characters one-up each other. There’s some of this, but Cohen and O’Brien refuse to let things get truly nasty, and the result is a feud that feels halfhearted.

Presumably, Cohen and O’Brien were afraid that an ugly showdown would lead viewers to dislike the players. That’s always a danger, but there’s bigger trouble in focusing on characters so milquetoast that nobody really cares.

“Neighbors” begins with Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) settling into a lovely suburban home that they recently purchased. Their infant daughter is forcing them into the lifestyle changes that every new parent faces and, although challenged, they are happy. Then, a college fraternity buys the house next door.

Terrified that their lovely home is about to become party central, Mac and Kelly introduce themselves to the fraternity president, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron). Despite a pleasant exchange, parties at the frat quickly get out of hand, forcing Mac and Kelly to declare war on their obnoxious next-door neighbors. The plot has potential and, had Stoller and company allowed the characters to fully engage one another, “Neighbors” might have become a rollicking affair. Instead, Mac’s and Kelly’s attempts to silence the fraternity are mostly half-hearted, and Teddy’s return volleys aren’t nearly as funny as one would hope.

Stoller gets some mileage from the cast, particularly Rogen and Efron. Both actors are charismatic, and they play well off one another and the rest of the cast. Also, as weak as the Cohen/O’Brien screenplay is as a whole, it’s littered with funny exchanges. These bits aren’t consistent enough to make up for the shortfalls but they do prevent “Neighbors” from imploding. What is left is an intermittently funny movie that, like its characters, lacks passion and follow-through.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a gag reel and several behind-the-scenes features.

 

The Rover

2 stars
Rated R for language and some bloody violence
Lionsgate
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Some post-apocalyptic movies speak to mankind’s unsinkable spirit and ability to milk good from even the worst situations. Others, like “The Rover,” are just plain bleak.

One’s tolerance for co-writer and director David Michôd’s feature will have much to do with one’s tolerance for unabated pessimism. In the earliest frames of “The Rover,” a weary, desperate man named Eric (Guy Pearce) watches as his car is stolen by a group of thugs travelling through the Australian outback. Michôd, best known for his 2010 drama “Animal Kingdom,” doesn’t fully explain Eric’s situation, nor does he detail the economic collapse that turned Australia into a third-world country. Rather, he allows his characters to drag viewers through the arid landscape, painting a portrait of unflinching despair.

From what viewers see, Eric’s car and dingy clothes are his only possessions. Stunned by the theft, he sets off in pursuit of his vehicle, determined to reclaim it by force. When, by chance, Eric meets the brother of one of the thieves (Robert Pattinson), his mission gains clarity, and he demands that the man lead sell his brother out.

The plot is simple, but “The Rover” is mostly a character study. As Eric and his prisoner search for the car, they grow accustomed to one another, and their relationship shifts from captor-prisoner to something altogether different. Pearce and Pattinson deliver powerful performances, and drive the feature forward.

Pearce won’t surprise anyone because he has been producing remarkable work for decades. Whether playing a by-the-book detective in “L.A. Confidential” or an aging business executive in “Prometheus,” he is great. What may surprise viewers is that Pattinson is every bit as strong.

The young actor has always been good, but he is plagued by stereotypes derived from his highest-profile project: the “Twilight” series. That franchise – although popular – saddled him with an unexpressive co-star, weak scripts and a boy toy reputation. When asked to do more serious work, as in the dramas “Remember Me” and “Water for Elephants,” Pattinson delivers.

Still, “The Rover” is difficult to watch. Michôd infuses the film with an unpalatable sense of hopelessness. As an artist, he is welcome to whatever viewpoint he likes, but it’s hard to recommend a project that spends the entirety of its 102-minute run plumbing the darkest parts of human psyche.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Signal”: Science-fiction thriller starring Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke and Beau Knapp as friends who get drawn into a terrifying situation by a mysterious computer hacker. Laurence Fishburne also stars. Co-written and directed by William Eubank.

“The 100” – The Complete First Season: Based on the like-titled novel by Kass Morgan, this science-fiction drama focuses on a group of juvenile prisoners who are sent to Earth’s surface to see if the fallout from a nuclear war has diminished enough to make the planet livable. Eliza Taylor, Bob Morley, Marie Avgeropoulos, Thomas McDonell and Paige Turco star.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – Season One: First 22 episodes of the Fox comedy focused on New York City Police officers working in a fictional Brooklyn precinct. Andy Samberg, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Dirk Blocker and Andre Braugher star.

“Reign” – The Complete First Season: The CW’s drama based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scotts (Adelaide Kane), isn’t heralded for historical accuracy, but it drew enough viewers to merit a second season. It also won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV drama.

“How I Met Your Mother” – The Complete Series: Every episode of the long-running CBS sitcom about a group of young friends living and working in New York City. Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan star. For folks who already own the first eight seasons, a standalone, ninth-season is also available.

“Scandal” – The Complete Third Season: Eighteen episodes of the ABC drama focused on a professional crisis manager (Kerry Washington) and her efforts to protect the images of high-profile politicians.

“The Tragedy of Macbeth”: Digital restoration of director Roman Polanski’s 1971 film adaptation of the William Shakespeare tragedy. Jon Finch and Francesca Annis star.

“The Innocents”: Criterion Collection release of director Jack Clayton’s 1961 thriller about a governess (Deborah Kerr) convinced that the children in her charge are being possessed. The screenplay was co-written by Truman Capote and William Archibald.

“Halloween” – The Complete Collection: Anchor Bay and Scream Factory team up for a boxed set including all 10 movies in the “Halloween” horror franchise. The massive set also features copious extras, including special cuts of two films.

“Wer”: “The Devil Inside” director William Brent Bell presents the story of a defense attorney (A.J. Cook) who discovers that the man she’s defending (Brian Scott O’Connor) may be a werewolf.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

 

NOTE: Blu-rays, DVDs and screening links used to review films are provided at no charge. This enables us to run reviews the day titles become public, but it does not influence the opinions expressed in the copy.
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  1. Pingback: Critics’ Choice Movie Awards nominees announced |

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