“Neighbors” was the rare raunchy comedy with brains to go with its bong hits. It took a simple premise — college bros versus slowly maturing 30-somethings — and gave it a touch of self-aware cool.
It also made giant piles of money, which triggered the automatic Hollywood response of producing a sequel that goes even further while somehow accomplishing less.
As the title suggests, the gender dynamics have changed in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are selling their house and moving their growing family to the suburbs. With no wild frat parties next door, they’re pretty sure the new buyers will be satisfied.
Enter Kappa Nu, a renegade sorority led by misfits Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein). Appalled by the sexism of the Greek system, they’ve decided to create a place where girls can party without being called “hos” and getting ruffied. And what better place than the mansion that once housed a shirtless Zac Efron?
Since this town apparently has no zoning regulations, Shelby and her crew move in and start filling the rooms (and porch and lawn) with like-minded young women. They even enlist Efron’s still-aimless Teddy to help them run the sorority, a job he gladly accepts when he sees a chance to antagonize Mac and Kelly again.
The battle starts and escalates quickly, and returning director Nicholas Stoller sets about trying to top himself. “Neighbors 2” is louder, grosser and more outrageous than its predecessor and tries to tackle bigger issues.
The casual attitude about sex and drugs is reframed as a kind of empowerment for Kappa Nu’s members, building on the original’s refusal to turn Kelly into a hyper-competent superwoman taking care of her manchild husband. In this world, gender equality is fun, even if it means everyone is equally clueless.
The hard-R humor is less effective and shows exactly why some jokes work only once. The airbag prank war, a highlight of the first movie, showed off Rogen’s slapstick skills. This time, the airbags are brought out for a much clunkier scene, a perfect example of trying too hard and ruining the gag. You’re supposed to wince and laugh, not just wince. It’s a pattern that is repeated throughout the film.
Efron gets more to work with than anyone else in the cast, and he steals “Neighbors 2” with more than just his eye-popping abs. Teddy is in that weird post-college phase where he can still hang out with the kids, even though they’re starting to think he’s old. As he gradually realizes that he might be on the wrong team, his shifting loyalties provide the only character growth in the entire script.
Stoller and his four(!) other credited screenwriters haven’t forgotten what made “Neighbors” a hit, so there is still plenty to enjoy in the antics of these multigenerational goofballs. The premise is already running out of steam, though, so it’s probably time to move on.
Besides, what other nuisance can move in at this point? A rave-throwing preschool?
Read more of freelancer Loey Lockerby’s reviews at suchacritic.com.
‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’
Rated R. Time: 1:32.