If the unwritten rule for sequels is “Do it again, only different,” then “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” fulfills its obligation, figuring out a way to retell its own story with just a bit of a twist. Thankfully, director Nicholas Stoller and stars Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron are all back for another go-round, so whatever might be lacking in inspiration is made up for by a steady stream of well-earned laughs.
The press notes proudly mention that the original “Neighbors” was 2014’s highest-grossing original comedy, but even if no one packed the originality this time around, at least they brought the comedy.
Having successfully battled the loud frat boys next door in the previous installment, Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) are ready to move on to a bigger home, since Kelly is expecting their second child. (We learn this when she has morning sickness all over Mac’s face, and the credits have barely finished rolling.) Meanwhile, Teddy (Efron) is in a post-collegiate rut, with his bros all building careers or getting married; his roommate and bestie Pete (Dave Franco), in fact, has made several discoveries about himself since graduation, and he’s about to tie the knot with his boyfriend, which means Teddy has to find a new place to live.
Back at school, freshman girls Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons, “Dope”) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein, “Fan Girl”) learn that sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties, but fraternities are — and since they quickly discover how “rapey” those shindigs are, they pool their money to rent the house next to Mac and Kelly to start their own off-campus sorority where their teen-girl hedonism can run wild.
Their timing couldn’t be worse, since Mac and Kelly are under a 30-day escrow, and if the new owners figure out that there’s a house of unsupervised partiers next door, the deal’s off. Teddy starts out as a mentor to the sorority, showing them how to make enough money to pay off their shady real estate agent (played by Billy Eichner), but when they decide Teddy’s too old and out-of-it to keep around, he teams up with Mac and Kelly to drive out another bunch of wild and crazy Greeks.
“Neighbors 2” maintains the same sort of raucous and outrageous humor that made the first one so much fun, illustrating the difference between pot-smoking 30-ish parents and out-of-control wild children, and the jokes and set pieces here land as well as they did before. (Not that anyone goes to these movies for the special effects, granted, but it’s worth noting that there’s a green-screen shot of Rogen in this movie that’s one of the very worst ever presented in a major motion picture.)
If the film falls short, it’s in its skittishness in dealing with the sexuality of the sorority girls. One of the best features of both movies is the fact that Byrne’s character is never presented as a scoldy-mommy killjoy. In this film, she has to lay off the stimulants because of her pregnancy, but her personality is no smaller or meeker than her husband’s. (Both of them insist to their Realtor that they understand escrow when, of course, neither actually does.)
But while these freshwomen go nuts with drinking and smoking pot, none of them seem to get laid much; we see a sign for a party marking Shelby’s loss of her virginity, but the man or woman or multiples thereof responsible are discreetly never shown or discussed. And after all, when Efron and his frat buddies lived in that house, it was non-stop licentiousness and dildo molding. (There’s a funny moment in the sequel when the sisters school Efron on male privilege by making him realize that the theme of every party his frat threw ended with “…and Hos.”)
There’s all of one scene where the young ladies ogle and objectify Teddy — he’s wearing short-shorts and covered in hot grease, so how could they not? — but we’re meant to believe that Zac Efron can live in a house with more than a dozen teenage girls without ever having to fend off a single advance. It’s a weirdly Puritanical blip on a movie that otherwise has no qualms about any and all bodily functions.
Still, “Neighbors 2” never lags, and the laughs keep coming, even though they’re coming from a fairly familiar place. If that’s all you want, that’s what you get. But, hey at least you get it, which is more than you can say for most sequels.