Warner Archives is proving that there truly is something for everyone out there in movie land, and likely you have forgotten most of those somethings. Consider this movie from those second try, early days of Saturday Night Live alumni stretching out onto the big screen. You probably don't remember these movies too much since they're bizarre, hard to define, and not exactly successful. In the crowd with Modern Problems and Doctor Detroit is Neighbors, a John Belushi/ Dan Aykroyd vehicle that's both too broad and a little bit subtle, a dark comedy that's not always very funny and a little light on the darkness quotient, a call to anarchy that doesn't make either option look all that great - and yet it's smarter, funnier and edgier than much of what passes as comedy today.
Director John G. Avildsen leads us into a surreally obvious metaphorical situation, as Earl Keese drives his Pinto wagon up to his house, a fake looking colonial next to a fake looking ramshackle house on a clearly fake residential street. I guess you could say this obvious artifice is a nod to the artificiality of suburban life. As Keese flops down in his easy chair to watch TV, awash in a kitschy floral sea, he notices some weird people moving in next door. Uh-oh, it's wild cards Ramona (Cathy Moriarty) and Vic (Aykroyd). Will Earl and wife Enid's (Kathryn Walker) lives ever be the same? It's probably not a spoiler to say that the answer is defiantly no.
Neighbors doesn't pack in the amount of weirdness modern audiences come to expect from their dark comedies, but what's there is that kind of weird which makes you feel really uncomfortable. Some of it is discomfiting because it's subtle enough to make you question whether it's supposed to be funny at all. Much of it is squirm inducing simply due to Aykroyd's bizarre presence. While seemingly cast in a 180-degree switch, (who wouldn't expect Belushi to play the weird, out-of-control neighbor?) the movie actually thrives on Belushi's struggle to be normal, and veritably feasts on Aykroyd's creepy insanity. Turn Aykroyd's "wild and crazy guy" into a Detroit scumbag (for example) who drives an El Camino, give him a creepy bleach-blonde pompadour and demonic blue contact lenses, and make his motivations completely unknowable, and you've got the stuff of suburban nightmares.
Throw in Moriarty's over-sexed manipulator (not a redundancy, I assure you) and you've got all kinds of tension, ripe for an ever-increasing series of outrageous events. Except they aren't all that outrageous: Belushi is turned on by Moriarty, his wife is turned on by Aykroyd, and a small, weird series of events occurs over one misbegotten evening. That grounding in reality makes Neighbors both less than we expect, and probably better than it should be. We relate to the goings on because they're keyed-up only a notch from reality, we identify with Belushi and Walker because their characters are written to be almost exactly like a couple well into their second decade together. We shrink in fear from Aykroyd with a shotgun, dressed in a skimpy scuba-diving outfit.
Though the movie is statically shot, is that bland façade an intentional reflection of the roles we play in real life? If so, how do you explain that the houses are designed to look like faces leering at each other? More grating is the soundtrack, full of telegraphing cues of the most boneheaded and cliché variety: plodding tubas, silly pizzicato strings, anything telling you what you're supposed to feel during a particular scene - or shot, as comic motifs will shift wildly back and forth to fit the action. This awful soundtrack nearly sinks the movie - though you won't notice it after too long. (The possibility exists that the soundtrack, too, is being used ironically, though this is a hard argument to make.)
A few faults (accidental or just unsuccessful traits) don't really hurt this strange '80s relic. Belushi and Aykroyd are truly a duo for the ages, and obviously it's too bad Belushi isn't still around. At least there are these few odd gems to be rediscovered. Neighbors messes with the dark comedy motif by playing things a little too close to the vest for slacker audiences: jokes don't involve sexual humiliation, rather fake Italian dinners. Aykroyd and Belushi perform an implausible yet realistic slow burn into arrested adolescent anarchy, and for lovers of outré, challenging cinema, this movie is Recommended.