Published May 20, 2016Perhaps it's foolish to anticipate anything more from a sequel to the comedy Neighbors than the simple gender swap that transforms the raucous fraternity next door into a raucous sorority next door.
But if originality was hardly to be expected from the story, at least we could hope that the jokes are funny. It's in this regard that Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising mostly succeeds: by delivering a consistent stream of raunchy humour that manages to not get too bogged down by the all-too-familiar tit-for-tat twists of the narrative.
Already parents of a young daughter, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) learn that they are expecting a second child, and have just sold their house. Once they finally grasp the concept of the sale being in escrow, they commit to making sure nothing jeopardizes the transaction in the 30 days the new owners have to make sure the place is in proper living condition. Of course, this is when the loud and disruptive sorority suddenly moves in next door and throws a wrench into their plans.
The sorority has been formed by three girls — Shelby (Chlöe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) — as an act of protest against the "rape-y" frat parties they're forced to attend because sororities are, unfairly, not allowed to throw parties of their own. The young students have put all of their limited savings into renting the house, and set out trying to raise funds by recruiting pledges and holding wild parties and events that keep Mac and Kelly up at night, in addition to threatening to ruin their sale.
The conflict is a little more even-handed than the first time around, as we identify with the plight of the girls wanting a place of their own where they can do what they want, even as their actions put them at odds with our protagonists from the original. The resulting game of one-upmanship leads to devious plans on both sides that are just as hit-and-miss tactically as they are from a comedic standpoint, peaking in a set-piece that sees Mac and Kelly trying to derail the girls' entrepreneurial plans to sell a whole lot of weed at a packed tailgating event by stealing all of their product.
Stuck in the middle of their war is Teddy (Zac Efron), the villainous frat leader of the first film, initially lending his expertise and frequently shirtless body as eye candy to the girls before eventually switching sides to help Mac and Kelly shut them down.
The movie's even-handed approach extends even to Teddy, in how oddly sympathetic it is towards his character's aimless path in life, with Efron managing to steal most of his scenes by flaunting his stupidity and abs in equal measure. When he and Rogen begin to form an unlikely father-son bond, it leads to some of the movie's funniest and most inspired moments.
The film struggles to find a way to tie everything up in satisfactory fashion, has a few noticeable lulls where the plot takes priority over the comedy and leaves the returning talents of those like Dave Franco and Ike Barinholtz with little to do, but there are enough laughs sprinkled throughout to at least justify the existence of this serviceable sequel.