By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Where is John Belushi’s unparalleled popped-pimple impersonation when we need it?
I summon the ghost of Belushi’s Bluto in “Animal House” because, in some strange blip of cinematic genealogy, he’s as responsible for “Neighbors” as Seth Rogen is.
In fact, considering the lard-ish lineage of the fat comic on film, Belushi may be doubly guilty.
But Belushi was an enormous talent — a raging force of id and super-ego that tore through “Saturday Night Live” skits with a ferocity that bordered on the beyond-human.
Granted, his film career was less stellar — a half dozen or so movies of intermittent quality. If “Continental Divide” — a perfectly pleasant romantic comedy that tried to move Belushi into leading man territory — had succeeded, he might still be around.
But Belushi was Belushi. The only one who could truly get in his way was himself. And sure enough, in 1982, he o.d.’d, flaming out at the ripe old age of 33.
Belushi was part of a long and distinguished line of hefty humorists who nonetheless proved astonishingly light on their feet. We could start with Fatty Arbuckle, but that gets, well, complicated (RIP Virginia Rappe). That leaves us Oliver Hardy, Jackie Gleason, Lou Costello, James Coco, Dom DeLuise (grudgingly), Stubby Kaye, John Candy, Chris Farley. Currently, “SNL” boasts two extra-large men with extra-large talent: Kenan Thompson and Bobby Moynihan.
Many of these heavyweights worked opposite a thin counterpart. Most famously, there’s Laurel and Hardy. But also Gleason and Art Carney. Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (yes, years ago, he was skinny). Costello and Bud Abbott. To some extent, Farley and David Spade.
Seth Rogen can almost be said to work with himself, i.e., there’s a “fat” Seth, most noticeably in “Knocked Up,” and a “thin” Seth, which is just about any movie he made after “Knocked Up.”
Now, about “Neighbors,” which has already knocked up — I mean out — “Spidey 2” at the box-office (though it immediately succumbed to “Godzilla” last weekend). It’s “Animal House” for the Crap Pack era, i.e., Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Michael Cera, etc.
Rogen and Rose Byrne are just getting used to the unavoidable fact that, well, they just might be grown-ups. They have a house, a car, a baby.
Alas, their new neighbors aren’t the quiet attractive gay couple they thought was moving in. Noooo, (as Belushi might say).
The new neighbors are the members of Delta Psi, a frat renowned for its wild n’ crazy, well, everything. then appeal to their better nature. Absolutely, says Delta Psi’s main man, a newly-beefed-up Zac Efron. Just let us know when we get too loud.
Well, as anyone who has seen the previews — or maybe a comedy in the last 40 years — that doesn’t work. War ensues, with each side upping the ante in an endless cycle of very broad, faux-raunchy gags.
There’s a germ of an idea here. When do we grow up? First job, first home, first toddler, first pet? When do we have to put away such childish things as wildly spontaneous sex, getting smashed, sleeping in until the hangover has, hopefully, calmed down a bit?
And props to the writers for realizing women can hang gross, too. Byrne is as up for battle as Rogen is. She’s more than just the bed-able wife — mild-mannered or shrewish version. And there’s actually a rather amazing exchange in which she says she doesn’t want to be the responsible one; she’s got a streak of irresponsible heedless hedonism in her as well (unfortunately, the target-audience-relatable name that’s used is, wince, Kevin James.)
“Neighbors” has little interest in much beyond jokes that seemed dated by the time “Hangover 3” was over. It’s as stale as 10-week-old pizza.