“Neighbors” & “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
Those who pine for the “Golden Age” of Hollywood when actors dressed like ladies and gentlemen in evening wear, acted with dignity and gravitas, carried on learned dialogues featuring extensive vocabulary, and indicated “racy” with a wink or an arched eyebrow will not want to see “Neighbors.” It is squarely in the camp of the modern “raunch humor,” where sexuality is a very open---and constant---topic of discussion, crude and rude remarks are the norm, and almost everyone is dressed informally at all times. Maybe even half-dressed. This one will not further the syllabus of masterpiece movies to be studied in film school, either.
That doesn’t mean it’s not funny in places. It is. It is also has some heart, though you have to look past a lot of boorish selfishness to find it. It’s probably intended to offend those with genteel sensibilities, and make them laugh despite themselves. The pratfalls and physical humor are actually fairly noteworthy. (The purloined air bags hidden under couch cushions, for instance.)
Zac Efron is past 25, and so too old for the part of the frat boy next door who indulges himself in riotous living and outrageous parties, but the mock seriousness of the fraternity rituals he pulls off with tongue-in-cheek aplomb. Next door is a young couple, played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne (none of the character names are important here), with a baby, who say they want a quiet, peaceful, neighborhood, but indulge themselves as honored invitees at one of the frat parties, and so wind up being a bit hypocritical when they call the cops the next time, which they’d promised not to do. The frat boys then play tricks on their neighbors out of revenge, until the mutual hijinks gets them all in more trouble than they’d bargained for. Great moviemaking? No. But it will definitely make you forget about your dreary day at the office for a while; the Secret Guilty Pleasure that you will probably not admit to in your Adult Sunday School class.
“The Amazing Spider Man 2” indulges another kind of Guilty Pleasure, and that is enjoying comic book characters rendered on the big screen, in 3-D, no less. The character of Spider Man has always been charming because he’s the teenager who got accidentally zapped in a scientific experiment, and finds himself with spider-like powers to spin and shoot webs so rapidly that he appears able to fly (actually more like serial rope swinging), and he has super-quick reflexes and heightened senses. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? But emotionally he’s a “typical teenager,” sometimes moody and occasionally just lazy and living with his Aunt (who took him in after his parents died in a plane crash). He seems kinda lost in dealing with girlfriends, and sometimes it gets in the way of saving the world from itself. The media even murmurs about his “getting in the way” of law enforcement to prevent crime, a criticism which makes him grumpy, and unsociable.
It’s even sillier to cast the 30-year old Andrew Garfield as high school student Peter Parker, and the 25-year-old Emma Stone doesn’t look young enough for his high school girlfriend, either. Their on-again, off-again romance is supposed to be part of the dynamic of the adolescent Spider-Man, but it feels more like adults trying to figure out how to deal with different life priorities. As for the bad guys, yes, we have those, and a comic book plot, check, as the hapless civilians need our reluctant super-hero to come save them. Really, the Spider-Man character appeals to the oh-so-human, vulnerable, flawed, but determined rescuer in us all, especially us old preachers. But what’s missing here, obviously, is a focus beyond one’s own limited self-awareness. Which is why the Church is not about us.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas