Who knew that a sequel to the funny dude-bro smash Neighbors would be a feminist rallying cry? Positing the schlubby, self-conscious parents played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne next door to a raging sorority yields what you’d expect in diminishing returns as director Nick Stoller rehashes some of the same gags we saw two years ago, but it’s the surprising gender politics at play that give this inessential follow-up a cultural boost over its predecessor, if not necessarily a comedic one.
Chloe Moretz and the rest of the girls are stoner outcasts sick of their current sorority’s princess ghetto, where they can’t throw parties, can’t smoke pot, and are forced to wallow at misogynistic frat parties if they wish to partake in either. It’s an actual fact that sororities cannot throw parties in the United States, so under the temporary tutelage of one Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), these wily college girls start their own sorority complete with female-friendly shenanigans, marijuana by the tons, and a pair of parental neighbors they will inevitably wage a prank war against, collegiate system be damned. Their cause is reasonable, even sympathetic, certainly more just than the jocular motivations of a certain raucous fraternity from a few years ago. However, Moretz and Beanie Feldstein are no Efron or Dave Franco when it comes to placing their young characters on equal footing with the yuks of older pros like Rogen and Rose. While they’re not exactly miscast, using actual comedians or traditionally comic actors may have gone a long way towards living up to the original’s high laugh quotient.
But don’t fret, dude-bros. There’s still plenty of bromance to go around, with Rogen and Rose almost becoming surrogate parents to their previous adversary. Once again Zac Efron is a hoot as lost soul Teddy, a young man drifting in the low-paying doldrums of retail post-college, all while his friends Pete (Franco), Scoonie (Chris Mintz-Plasse), and Garf (Jerrod Carmichael) are getting married and finding good jobs. He’s eventually essentially homeless, friendless, and desperate to find his niche in life, and thinks he’s found it when he decides to help the struggling sorority realize their juvenile aspirations. Naturally, they betray the grown-up over text message and Teddy switches sides, joining friends Marc and Kelly to give these girls a lesson in both maturity and immaturity, thus sending the former frat king on a journey to self-discovery. Refreshingly, Pete isn’t forgotten in the midst of Teddy’s character arc and deepening bond with those parents next door. His recent engagement to a live-in boyfriend gives Franco something new to chew on (no pun intended), and his friendship with Teddy serves as a fulcrum for the latter’s resonant if riotous development.
In spite of the best efforts of Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, and Rose Byrne, Neighbors 2 isn’t as funny as the original. The plot is a beat-for-beat rehash, pranks ‘n all, and they’ve gathered a collection of young actresses whose lack of comic timing overshadows their camaraderie and charisma. Having said that, the coming-of-age calamities and female justice hand-wringing hit that social sweet spot, and they don’t stand in the way of Sorority Rising being a pretty fun time at the movies, worthy of a weekend matinee or weekday excursion.