It's another dull evening in the suburban home of Earl (John Belushi) and his wife Enid (Kathryn Walker), or at least it is until Earl hears the sound of a car drawing up outside the house next door. This turns out to be his new neighbours, and an attractive woman calling herself Ramona (Cathy Moriarty) rings the doorbell. Earl invites her in and as his wife is preparing something to eat he offers to let her join them for a meal, but what she is actually doing is opening a packet of frozen waffles. Earl doesn't think that's appropriate and neither does Vic (Dan Aykroyd), Ramona's husband who Earl finds settled down in front of the telelvision. This is just the beginning of what will be the most frustrating night of Earl's life...
Scripted by Larry Gelbart from Thomas Berger's novel, this troubled production was the last film of Belushi, who died shortly after filming from a drugs overdose. Ironically, the character he plays here couldn't be further from that personality, as a straightlaced, repressed family man - the strongest drug Earl would have taken would have been aspirin. Indeed, Belushi is cast against type, with Aykroyd taking the wild man role of Vic, winding up his new neighbour at every opportunity, but crucially never admitting he's out to make Earl's life a misery with his confusing talk and crazy schemes. The film was considered a disappointment on its first release, perhaps because of that casting quirk, but is not at all bad.
Movies starring Saturday Night Live comedians are a mixed bag generally. Most of them are pretty poor, in fact, but Belushi and Aykroyd had genuine star quality and could have gone on to make a successful double act for the rest of the decade if tragedy hadn't intervened. Here their interplay is very successful, as is the uneasy rapport with Ramona who continually acts as if she's trying to seduce Earl only to embarrass him or later on foil his passions and possibly seduce his wife instead. Enid will always take the side of Vic and Ramona, as we realise when Earl, skulking around in the bushes after Vic has taken thirty two dollars to get a takeout meal, sees her throwing the steaks he wanted to their new neighbours' dog.
Not only does Vic claim to go and get something to eat with Earl's money, but he also takes Earl's car, saying that the brakes are broken on his own truck. When Earl spies Vic making spaghetti and steaming the label off a jar of sauce in his own kitchen, he immediately grows suspicious and decides to test the brakes on the truck, only to send the vehicle into the nearby swamp. So Earl is continually on the defensive, and every time he confronts Vic or Ramona they always have a good explanation for their actions or resort to laughing off his accusations as a joke. The plot would have been just as appropriate for a horror movie, and almost becomes one when the two men venture into the swamp.
Although rarely more than gently amusing, there are a few good touches of lunacy. Vic demanding to know if Earl psychically willed Ramona's towel to fall off while she was in his bedroom as all the time Earl begs for help, sinking into the swamp, is a solid example of the kind of relationship the two have, full of misunderstandings and power games. As incident piles on incident, you can't help but feel sorry for Earl, and you get the impression that the actors really liked the characters they played, as their amiability shines through even at their most infuriating. However, when Vic and Ramona make plans to leave, it's hard to be convinced by Earl's pleading for them to stay, despite his protestation that he's never enjoyed himself as much as he has since they arrived. Still, Neighbors manages to be more winning than its reputation suggests, and a fitting, if uncharacteristic, swan song for its star. Music by Bill Conti, which sounds as if it comes from a Looney Tunes cartoon.