Film Review: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

The inevitable sequel mixes in would-be topical jabs about everything from police abuse to same-sex marriage and post-post-feminism into its fast-paced, but hardly quick-witted, cross-generation “Animal House” demolition derby.
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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising starts with Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne), one-half of the film’s perpetually befuddled Gen-X couple, announcing her pregnancy to Mac (Seth Rogen) by spewing vomit on his face while they’re having sex. It ends in a curiously anti-climactic scene with the Radners enraptured in honeyed two-child McMansion bliss. In between those polar-opposite moments roils a helter-skelter of moments that read like something stitched together almost at random from the notebook leavings of Rogen and Evan Goldberg (just two of the five credited writers).

In theory, this is a sequel that ups the ante from the occasionally funny original. You know the drill: Bigger gross-out moments, more heart, and a bigger cast, as though the Rogen/Goldberg nerd-bro comic universe is turning into its own self-replicating Marvel-esque factory. It throws the quiet, child-rearing stay-at-home Radners another very similar challenge when a kind of guerrilla anti-sorority moves into the old frat mansion next door and threatens to derail their attempts to sell. Their new enemies are a vagabond gang of freshmen women led by nerdy stoners Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz, strident but flat), Beth (Kiersey Clemons, winningly gawky) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), who love the sisterhood of Greek life but hate the sexist rules about no parties at sororities. So they form their own renegade sorority, Kappa Nu, and enlist the Radners’ old arch-nemesis Teddy (Zac Efron) as party advisor, beefcake mascot, and chieftain in their war against the get-off-my-lawn oldsters next-door.

In practice, Neighbors 2 doesn’t push the envelope in standard comedy-sequel doubling-down manner so much as it tries to braid variations on the original into an anything-goes storyline. Teddy’s post-graduate mates are briefly brought back if only to illustrate by comparison just how stunted he remains, and also to set up a third-act wrinkle (somehow not played for laughs, in a refreshing twist) with the wedding of Pete (Dave Franco) to his boyfriend. For a time, the quick, rattletrap script tracks the Kappu Nus and Radners’ lopsided combat, which escalates quickly from failed diplomacy to the flinging of bloody tampons and smartphone hacking.

Fortunately, the writers realized that there’s only so much to be gained from more raging—after you’ve seen one slo-mo, neon-strobed party montage, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Instead, they zoom in more on the anxieties of the Radners (real estate and being bad parents, as ever), the Kappu Nus (how to party on their own terms without having to suffer idiot frat-bros), and Teddy (surviving as a chiseled man-child in a post-college world). The result is a film that fills the spaces between the spikes of anarchic chaos with some winning vulnerability, keeping the whole enterprise from descending into full-tilt, connect-the-dots party mania.

The result is uneven, to put it mildly, as with many off-brand Rogen-Goldberg efforts. Gags that weren’t that funny to begin with, the Radners’ toddler using a vibrator as a toy or Mac’s buddy Jimmy’s (Ike Barinholtz) clown impersonation, are driven into the ground by repetition. While the dude-heavy script makes an attempt to give the Kappa Nu ladies fair play, the party-house bonding was far more deeply felt in the bro-time original. But the script’s spin-the-dial randomness sometimes throws up small gems like the one where a pair of black cops (Jerrod Carmichael and Hannibal Buress) beat the holy hell out of white pot dealers before lavishing politeness on a room of black dealers.

Is Neighbors 2 the right place for a gag about police violence? Until any other satires feel like taking up the mantle, perhaps. Yes, the film’s feminism pivots on the right of its female characters to use party as a verb. But at least their desire to rage until dawn and treat class as nothing more than a fanciful concept is treated just as seriously as their line of toga-draped male counterparts leading all the way back to the great John Blutarsky himself.

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