It’s been two years since the events of Neighbors, which saw young married couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) wage war against the hard-partying fraternity brothers of Delta Psi Beta – and the times, they are a-changin’.
With the exception of Teddy (Zac Efron), whose retail job at Abercrombie and Fitch has taken a turn for the worse now that he can no longer walk around shirtless, everyone else is settling comfortably into adulthood: Garf (Jerrod Carmichael) is a police officer, Scoonie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has become a tech mogul, and Pete (Dave Franco) is engaged. The latter event that would normally be cause for celebration, except for the fact that Teddy has been asked to move out of the house to make room for Pete’s fiancé.
Meanwhile, while rushing Phi Lambda new freshman Shelby (Chloe Grace-Moretz) is dismayed to learn that not only do the sisters disapprove of her desire to smoke pot in the house, but the rules of Greek Life prohibit sororities from throwing their own parties – this honor is reserved solely for fraternities. Shelby’s first visit to a frat house finds her connecting with fellow new students Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), but the “rapey” vibe – which includes a banner that reads “No Means Yes” and a “Stairway to Heaven” sign that points to a doorway emblazoned with a giant penis – is just the sort of thing the girls are hoping to avoid.
Defiantly thrusting a middle-finger at patriarchy, Shelby bands together with her new pals to form Kappa Nu, and their search for a house leads them to the vacant frat den formerly occupied by Teddy and his brothers. The girls pool together enough money to pay the first month’s rent and immediately begin recruiting and raging, but there’s a bit of a wrinkle: next-door neighbors Mac and Kelly are in escrow on their house, and if the buyers happen to stop by and notice that a sorority has taken up residence next door, the deal will almost certainly fall apart. So would it be at all possible for the girls to tone things down for the next 30 days until the sale is closed and Mac and Kelly are in the clear?
Not a chance.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a dramatic departure from its predecessor, which reveled in the extravagance and ludicrousness of the college bro lifestyle. Sure, there’s plenty of the same gross-out humor that punctuated the first film, but this time the elaborate pranks and weaponized bodily fluids are mostly coming from its female characters, none of whom are shy about calling out double standards. When Teddy expresses disgust at a particular attack, Shelby points out that he would have no qualms about yukking it up if the girls had been throwing bags of dicks at the house next door instead of used tampons – and Teddy, to his credit, admits that she’s right.
That Neighbors 2 should have such a feminist bent when the first film seemed to be very “pro bro” is a bold statement, but the message tends to get a bit muddled as we watch the girls behave in the same depraved manner as the frat boys they were repulsed by only a few scenes earlier. Shelby and her pals don’t want to be ogled by the horny males that surround them, but when Teddy oils himself up and strips down to a pair of shorts for an impromptu dance routine, they can’t look away. And while the pranks levied against the Radner family by Delta Psi were often outrageous, the girls of Kappa Nu repeatedly prove themselves capable of wanton cruelty. It’s not enough just to win the war – they’re actively trying to ruin Mac and Kelly’s lives, and as noble as their cause may be, their methodology makes it extremely difficult to empathize.
Another glaring omission is the absence of anything that feels even remotely like actually attending college. The original film had its share of partying, but we never questioned the idea that Teddy and his cohorts were students who went to class from time to time – meanwhile, Shelby and her followers seem to exist for no other reason than to party endlessly. College serves as nothing more than a backdrop here, leaving the characters to feel decidedly one-dimensional – an impression that is only exacerbated by a flat performance from Grace-Moretz and underwritten roles for her two closest allies.
Director Nicholas Stoller and his five-man writing team deserve a fair bit of credit, not only for trying to change things up and allow the girls a chance to fight back against a system that treats them as inferior to their male counterparts, but also for their sensitive treatment of a gay character that could easily have been played for cheap laughs, but instead is handled gracefully. At the end of the day, however, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is still a comedy, and it’s a shame that so much of the humor comes from recycled jokes that worked far better in the previous film, where they felt fresh and original.
With its uneven characters, uninspired attempts to elicit laughs, and blatant studio self-promotion – there’s a recurring Minions reference that is painfully, catastrophically unfunny – Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising falls well short of the comedic highs offered by its forerunner, and not even Zac Efron’s amazingly chiseled abs can distract us from the shortcomings of this inferior sequel.