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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cool Ass Comedies: Neighbors (1981) review


This section is devoted to obscure, or forgotten comedies that were either overlooked, or snubbed by a movie going public during their initial theatrical run. Some have cult followings and others are just comedies that have nostaligic appeal to me.


John Belushi (Earl Keese), Dan Aykroyd (Vic), Cathy Moriarty (Ramona)

Directed by John G. Avildsen

"I swear to God, Enid, we may have to move. They're very strange people. You know after the first five minutes when you meet someone you know everything about them, you know what they do, you know their last name...we know NOTHING about those two!"

On the outskirts of suburbia, the mundane and dreary existence of Earl Keese and his family is about to be turned upside down when a quirky and bizarre couple move into the empty house next door. Over the course of 24 hours, Earl Keese is pushed to the brink of insanity and put through hell by the extraordinary new neighbors.

The Oscar winning director of ROCKY (1976) and THE KARATE KID (1984) helmed this blackly humorous comedy, one that traveled an immensely rocky road to make it to the big screen. In the beginning, though, it would seem that this film, based on a best selling novel, would be a huge success. Considering the pedigree both behind the camera (from the producers to the screenwriter and the director) and in front of it, everyone involved thought that NEIGHBORS was going to be another massive success for the SNL hit squad of Belushi and Aykroyd.

Vic: "It's a great house."

Earl: "Thank you."

Vic: "I mean mine."

The director had originally envisioned the character of Earl Keese to be played by Rodney Dangerfield, but Columbia was against it. Soon after, both Belushi and Aykroyd were signed on, but initially, Belushi was to play the bizarre new neighbor, Vic and Aykroyd was to play the mild mannered Earl. Both actors preferred to switch the roles much to the dismay of those involved that felt the film should have been left as it originally was written for the two main characters.

Vic and Ramona' dog, Baby, gets too close to the faulty powerlines

But despite much trepidation on the part of the filmmakers about the two leads switching their roles, both John and Dan were infinitely dissatisfied with the studios choice of director. It was becoming quickly apparent that the making of the movie was mirroring what would ultimately end up on screen. Only instead of two neighbors in a back and forth struggle, it became a volatile situation between two actors and their director. Belushi in particular was so incensed and furious over the direction the film was taking, that a number of people stated that the actor really wanted Avildsen dead.

"Hey, Earl! You want some of your daughters panties? They come in four flavors...banana, peach, mint and of course...CHERRY!"

Problems persisted when Belushi hated the score used in the film. He wanted to use songs from a punk band called 'Fear', but outside of hearing a punk rock tune on a radio at one point, the score by Bill Conti is as strange and eccentric as the tone of the film itself. It's an off kilter mix of bells, whistles, trumpets and big orchestra arrangements. A mega popular Bee Gee's song is also heard on the soundtrack. With so many tumultuous and problematic situations threatening to derail the production at every turn, the movie was a modest success when it was released around Christmas time in 1981. Still, compared with ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) and THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980), this third teaming of the dynamite duo of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd was deemed a failure.

I remember when I saw the commercial for NEIGHBORS I thought it was a horror movie. I didn't catch up to the film until a year or so after its release when it debuted on cable television. At the time, all I cared about was horror films and this darkly humorous story had enough creepy, yet funny moments to elicit slight overtones of the macabre. Whereas many that worked on the film felt that the two leads exchanging their originally intended roles crippled the movie, I actually thought it works to the films benefit. Belushi obviously didn't want to keep playing the 'Bluto' type role from ANIMAL HOUSE. He instinctively thought playing a much more bland characterization while his close friend, Aykroyd was playing the crazier personage would be pure genius. I think it was a good decision on both their parts. I don't think I could imagine it any other way.

After everything I've read about how insane Belushi was on the set of this movie (falling back into drugs, violent tantrums), his performance is excellent. It's totally controlled up until the end when he finally releases his pent up 'caveman' after tiring of his dead end existence.

"God, does it always shrivel up like that when you shower?"

Vic and Ramona torture him mercilessly throughout the films 90+ minute running time. Vic manipulates and lies to Earl, but then once Earl thinks he's caught Vic red handed, the situation is turned around (sometimes to a ridiculous degree) to make Earl out to be a fool yet again. Ramona constantly seduces him with the promise of sexual fulfillment before she, too, makes him out to be a buffoon at every turn.

Ramona: "He tried to pork me."

Earl: "Pork you?! WHAT?!"

Ramona: "You know you did."

Earl: "I swear...I never touched her!"

Ramona: "Well I wasn't born with your hand in my bush."

"What are you so nervous about, Earl? Afraid Vic'll think you're up here....chewing me?"

"Do they have any country fairs around here? You know, where they do things like see which bull has the biggest balls."

And it isn't relegated to the neighbors. At one point, Earl thinks he's pulled one over on his inexplicable next door socialites by locking them in his basement. What follows is pure hilarity as Earl calls a friend about a locksmith to let them out of the basement. Vic invades the conversation by listening in on the phone downstairs. This scenes features some fast editing as Vic wreaks havoc over the phone resulting in Earl finally hanging up.

Earl: "...I've got two lunatics locked in my basement!"

Vic: (Makes grunting sounds)

Chic: "What?! What did ya' say?"

Vic: (in a deep, raspy voice)"I said blow it out your ass, wimp!"

Chic: "Is their somebody on this line?"

Vic: "Just you and me, asshole!"

Earl: "The bastard's on the phone!"

Chic: "Well you called me, didn't ya'?"

Earl: "Not you!"

Vic: "ME!"

Earl: "Get off the line, Vic!"

Chic: "Who's Vic?!"

Earl: "He lives next door."

Vic: "Nobody lives next door, Earl!"

Chic: "That's right!"

Earl: "Christ!"

Vic: "Earl! Have you been drinking?!"

Chic: "What the hell is goin' on?!"

Earl: "Nevermind, forget it."

Vic: "And don't ever call here again!!"

Vic: "You just take back that cup you keep switching, Earl, or it'll be pump city!"

(referencing Ramona lying naked in Earl's bed)
Earl: "But she dropped the towel!"

Vic: "Did she drop it, or did you psychically will it to fall?"

Greavy: "That fella' Vic said you run his truck down in the swamp...said you locked him and his missus in the root cellar."

Earl: "That was kind of a joke..."

Greavy: "A joke? What the hell kinda' joke's that?" It's about as funny as a gut full a pinworms."

Earl: "Who asked your opinion anyway?"

Greavy: "Who the hell has to, ya' jack off! Just because I lay under your carpets that's inside, just because I snake your pipes and drain your cesspools, that don't make me dirt under your feet! I'm just as good as you any day, asshole! If I didn't have to do this crap for a livin', I wouldn't sell you my snot!"

A trick by Vic pretending to saw off Ramona's leg sets them free, but gets Earl trapped in his own basement. This leads to a heated conversation with a disgruntled and dirty locksmith named Greavy. Earl gets himself into even more hot water with the old man's son.

Perry Greavy: "How would you like your nuts nailed to your forehead, huh?"

It's just one catastrophic situation after another. Earl cannot win. He's the victim of a stale marriage and a distanced relationship with his punk rocking daughter. Vic and Ramona simply try to get Earl to live a little, yet he keeps fighting them till the last five minutes of the film. Earl literally leaves his family in the dust after accidentally setting his house on fire while his wife and kid are away. He takes off with the eccentric couple into the wild blue yonder to experience the reckless side of life.

NEIGHBORS (1981) was John Belushi's last movie and a difficult one to recommend especially if you're expecting something in the mold of ANIMAL HOUSE or THE BLUES BROTHERS. The third film in the unofficial Belushi/Aykroyd trilogy is the polar opposite of those movies. It's occasionally insane, but far more contained in that the entire film takes place in a dead end cul de sac. It's an acquired taste and not a laugh out loud barrage of gags that many may be accustomed to. It has moments that are hilarious, but most of the humor is subtle and very dark. If you're a fan of jet black comedy, than these NEIGHBORS are people you may want to get to know.

This review is representative of the Columbia Tri Star R2 DVD


Samuel Wilson said...

I saw Neighbors a few times during its original release, back when the local theater still had dollar nights. The casting switch was an inspired move and just the right thing for Belushi and Aykroyd to do at that time to avoid being typecast together. Conti's music sounded like it belonged in a beach party or Don Knotts movie of twenty years earlier, though I'm not sure if Belushi's suggestions would have enhanced the film. The music matters less than the comedy and it was funny enough to me at the time to make me see it multiple times. Thanks for the blast from the past.

venoms5 said...

You're welcome, Sam! I love the film, but understand why it might put off some people. The score I think fits the film and there's a couple of 'Twilight Zone' riffs in there, too. I couldn't imagine the film with a punk score, though.

wiec? said...

reading this review took me back. i remember renting this when i was in middle school (Belushi was comedic gold to me back then) and while i really wanted to like it a lot of it went over my head at the time. i did like seeing Belushi play the nebbish character. even as a kid it seemed weird like he and Akroyd switched places this time around.

it was on cable a few years back and (older and wiser) i liked it (and understood it) better. while you're right it's not fall out of your chair funny it has a few moments of uneasy (but enjoyable) brilliance. it's also a fine example of early 80's film making and i liked the dipsy doodle aspect of gthe soundtrack. it's also one of those movies that is like looking inside a time capsule. it's not the 1970's but not exactly at 1980's either. hard to explain.

nice pick for a review venoms.

venoms5 said...

I didn't get a lot of the jokes, either when I first saw it. The slight hint of horror was what attracted me to it back then. This was actually the first of the Belushi/Aykroyd team movies I saw in its entirety before their much better received ANIMAL HOUSE and BLUES BROTHERS. It would be cool to see what NEIGHBORS would have been like had it been shot the way it was originally conceived.

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