A film review by Craig J. Koban May 28, 2016

NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING jj
½

2016, R, 91 mins.

 

Seth Rogen as Mac Radner  /  Rose Byrne as Kelly Radner  /  Zac Efron as Teddy Sanders  /  Chloë Grace Moretz as Shelby  /  Kiersey Clemons as Beth  /  Selena Gomez as Phi Lambda President Madison  /  Beanie Feldstein as Nora  /  Dave Franco as Pete  /  Ike Barinholtz as Jimmy  /  Carla Gallo as Paula  /  Elise Vargas as Stella

Directed by Nicholas Stoller  /  Written by Evan Goldberg, Andrew J. Cohen, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen and Brendan O'Brien

NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING is a sequel that strains credulity through and through and begs the question as to the necessity of its own existence.  

With the success of the first rowdy college frat house comedy from 2014, a sequel seemed positively inevitable.  As far as direct follow-ups go, NEIGHBORS 2 is pretty routine and strains very little away from the established premise of its antecedent.  If anything, it ostensibly appropriates the setup and events of NEIGHBORS, retools them here and there, and passes itself off as a new film.  The conflict that the hapless married couple find themselves embroiled in here is pretty much 100 per cent duplicated from the last outing, albeit with a bit of gender reversal (more on that in a bit).  Overall, NEIGHBORS 2 is on pure autopilot. 

Yet, as an engine designed to deliver laughs, there’s simply no denying that this sequel is frequently uproarious.  Where it lacks in originality and a willingness to take the characters and established situations from the first film in new directions, NEIGHBORS 2 gets considerable mileage out of its very game cast, all of whom seem hyper self-aware that their characters are implausibly going through the exact same hellish situation again.  The film lives and breathes on the perversity of its central neighborly conflict between adults (that manage to behave like naïve children half the time) and rambunctious and party animal teenagers that just want to have some good ol’ college fun.  Considering how bloody recycled the whole enterprise feels, NEIGHBORS 2 still wrings up ample laughs and delivers on promises of sustained and inspired silliness.   

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne return as Mac and Kelly respectively, whom are now expecting their second baby and have moved on the from nightmarish war they waged with alpha frat boy Teddy (Zac Efron).  The couple seems content and happy, but they are dealt with some newfound stress in having to sell their old home (that was ground zero for their battle with Teddy’s next door fraternity) in order to afford their newer and larger one (now, why the couple didn’t conditionally sell their current home before purchasing their new one is something the script never fully explains).  They do find buyers that want to take the property, but it’s in escrow, which means that the buyers have a month to back out of the sale, no questions asked, if they find anything wrong with the neighborhood or home.  With Teddy and his frat posse a distant memory, Mac and Kelly feel in the clear… 

…or…are they? 

 

 

Well…nope.  It appears that the same house that Teddy and his hedonistic clan once occupied is now on the radar of college freshmen Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her pals Nora (Beanie Feldstein) and Beth (Kiersey Clemons), who discovered – gasp! – that the first college sorority that they wanted to be a part of…doesn’t allow heavy partying.  Because of some actual and deplorably sexist and archaic loophole (it exists, Google it), college sororities in the US are not allowed to throw parties with alcohol…but male fraternities are exempt from this.  Faster then you can say “WTF?!” Shelby and her new besties decide that they deserve to be just as liberated and free to get high and drunk at their college home as their male counterparts.  So, the girls set their sights on – yup – the very same house that was Teddy’s base of fraternity operations.  Dubbing their sorority as Kappa Nu, Shelby’s vision is to have her newfound rental home be a haven for college girls everywhere to have fun and not be subjugated to having to go to the (their words) “rapey” climate of frat parties.  

So, how does Teddy figure into all of this?  He’s been down on his luck since finishing college.  All of his former frat pals have moved on, whereas he seems hopelessly adrift.  He initially decides to help Kappa Nu as a form of revenge against Mac and Kelly’s actions from the first film, but when things go south for him with Shelby and her girl empowered squad, he turns to Mac and Kelly to seek revenge against Kappa Nu…and to ensure that the couple can escape their escrow predicament unscathed.  Much as was the case with the first NEIGHBORS, Efron shows how remarkably adept he is at comedy, and some of this sequel’s biggest laughs are at the expense of his petty ignorance towards his own inherent chauvinism.  The manner Efron is able to score huge laughs when incredulously responding to Shelby’s claims that his former frat antics were rampantly sexist is an endless source of giddy fun.  He’s also a loveable dope despite his past indiscretions that can’t seem to understand (for example) why he’s at a downhill, low respect job at Abercrombie & Fitch (“I had to cover for my boss because he had to go to his prom” he pitifully acknowledges at one point).  I like how NEIGHBORS 2 continues the trend of not making Teddy a hostile degenerate, but rather a misguided dude with actual feelings and regrets. 

Rogen and Byrne together again remains an equally strong source of guffaws, even though Rogen is really, really going through the performance paces yet again as a clueless in-over-his-head reefer addicted man-child that delivers verbal zingers aplenty and engages in sight gags revolving around his portly girth (yadda-yadda, been there-done that).  The mousy, but delightfully potty-mouthed Byrne once again has fun with her increasingly agitated wife, and her back-and-forth interplay with Rogen is once again spot-on.  Intriguingly, NEIGHBORS 2 has more up its sleeve than expected when it comes to Moretz’s character and her struggles, which has a refreshingly engaging feminist slant.  The film may be awash in gross out pratfalls and rampant lewdness that’s typical of its college party genre, but it has legitimate things to say about the predatory nature of frat parties, not to mention how modern day college “standards” don’t afford female students the same privileges and rights as males (a shocking revelation that even the characters in the film recognize and deal with).  Even when NEIGHBORS 2 feels like a lazy rehash at times of its better predecessor, it nevertheless adds an unexpected thematic dimension of millennial girls feeling rightfully disenchanted and angry about an inherently misogynistic system that they desire to fix. 

Granted, this serious subtext is sometimes lost in some the film’s tasteless humor, with many of the jokes pushing the boundaries of taste (the sorority’s choice of one particular unhygienic weapon against their neighbors is pretty nauseating).   However, NEIGHBORS 2 makes up for those puerile moments with others that elicit hearty chuckles that don’t engage a gag reflex (like the triumphant return of automobile airbags being used by Mac and Teddy during one tense scene, or a later one when Teddy, Mac, and Kelly argue over the correct spelling of the word sorority to uproarious effect).  In closing, though, I just don’t know what to do with this film.  It creates a real pickle for a film critic.  Is NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING a worthy and innovative sequel?  No.  Is it funny?  Yes…and it made me laugh a lot.   Is it worthy of a $12 theatrical ticket?  Not really.  Is it worthy of a rental later?  Sure.  Two and half stars, in retrospect, seems fair.  

Actually, I almost gave the film an extra half a star for the scene involving Mac showing the dimwitted Teddy how to boil eggs.  Mac tells him that they get hard when boiled, which doesn’t make much sense to the confused Teddy.  By his estimation, why does pasta get soft when boiled, but eggs get hard?  Mac wants to instantly respond with spiteful incredulity...but he's forced to ponder Teddy's logic for a minute.  

Teddy may be on to something.

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