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In Defense Of Neighbors (1981)

With the passing recently of Producer Richard D. Zanuck, I thought I’d take a look at one of his more obscure career highlights.  

Whereas the first (and last) comedy reteaming of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi was expected to be a high energy romp from fans, the 1981 Neighbors was instead a dark satire unexpected by everyone.

Made available recently on DVD and On-Demand from Sony, most audiences probably caught this movie on cable or edited for broadcast television.  It played constantly and continued to disappoint anyone expecting the duo on another “mission from God.”

But the source material that the movie is based on, which was written by Thomas Berger in 1980, was quickly snapped up by Columbia Pictures where Richard Zanuck and David Brown (Jaws) managed to assemble not only the amazing cast but also got director John G. Avildsen (Rocky) to direct and Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H) to adapt it.
From the get go, apparently the whole project was a struggle, and it for the most part shows in the final product.
I’m a fan of it though.  I get that the director has no real sense of comedy, but that helps the tone of the movie to some extent.  I love that Bill Conti’s instantly dated score mocks and imitates the theme from The Twilight Zone with ironic misguidedness.  

The comedy legends supposedly decided to switch roles before the cameras started rolling and play against type.  I think it works.  I love the straight-laced Belushi and I find that Aykroyd knows how to play obnoxious character with actual menace.

Impacted also by the film of course was the even darker force of Belushi’s drug addiction. The actor relapsed during production, and this would be his final on-screen credit.

Aykroyd certainly made far worse comedy vehicles like Nothing But Trouble and Caddyshack II, but we never got to experience what should have been the penultimate teaming with Belushi – Ghostbusters.  Spies Like Us expertly paired Aykroyd with Chevy Chase, with Eddie Murphy in Trading Places and with John Candy in The Great Outdoors.   The Blue Brothers is comedy gold, yes, but Neighbors is not without its moments and for fans it’s worth another look.



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