NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING (7.5 out of 10) Directed by Nicholas Stoller, Written by Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg; Starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Kiersey Clemons, Dave Franco, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Beanie Feldstein, Clara Mamet; Rated R for "crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying;" Running time 92 minutes; In wide release May 20, 2016.
(Note: this is one of two reviews we're providing, the other you can read here from my colleague Adam McDonald, who is obviously a pretentious film snob and a negative killjoy for disliking this movie. Enjoy your Kurosawa and Criterion Collection copy of "My Dinner With Andre" and enjoy telling those dang kids to stay off your lawn! Pbbbbbblllllttttttt!!!)
Sometimes a sequel can surprise you. This followup to 2014's "Neighbors" continues the story of an increasingly middle-aged couple dealing with a a fraternity that moves in next door, but this time it's a sorority. In a twist, the new sorority sisters are committed to founding a new type of sorority-- one that parties (supposedly only frats are allowed to throw parties and sororities are not? what the what?) but also does so without demeaning women the way frat bros inherently do. Girls fight for their right to party, and neighbors fight to have them please keep it down and not scare off the buyers who just made an offer on purchasing their home. And hijinks ensue.
The surprising part of this is the tender heart at the center of this comedy. In between the bong hits and the ball shots, it takes time to call out the sexism and double standards that frat life has. It also takes the time to empathize with its cast of misfits and dope addicts, who otherwise would just be one step away from sociopaths, and spins a tale whose center is about everyone finding their true place in the universe.
But let's talk about the funny first, because that's what most of you are coming to see. If you enjoyed the first film, this is much more of the same. It's your typical feuding neighbors comedy, with each side upping the stakes each time. Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne basically play their characters the same from the first film, with an added twinge of self-doubt about whether or not they are good people-- or good parents-- for engaging in these shenanigans. Rogan also adds a twinge of uncertainty about whether or not he can properly relate to his daughter as she grows up, a fact which is beautifully on display in a confrontation with Kelsey Grammar, who shows up as the sorority leader's father.
The key here is Zach Efron's Teddy Bridger, who plays a sort of double agent. While he starts off mentoring the new sorority sisters in all things partydom, after a coup d'etat he is ousted from their matriarchal machinations and seeks revenge by allying with "the old people" after realizing that he is now, himself, old. He is the heart of the film-- as it's really his journey from "bro" into man. But between his machiavellian pranks, encyclopedic knowledge of college frat and party life, and being just the dumbest character for miles around in any direction, he also provides some of the best laughs. And certainly the best abs.
But let's talk one minute about the ladies of the sorority. Their leader Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) is the key to the social commentary here. She and her core group of friends repeatedly call out everyday sexism and double standards, such as the fact that putting frats in charge of parties invariably leads to these parties only becoming giant rape traps. Their attempts to even the playing field are funny, (such as movie nights where they eat ice cream and watch chick flicks) but also have serious implications in the era of "The Hunting Ground."
There are also multiple seemingly throwaway jokes that expose more serious issues. "There's no such thing as reverse sexism" is a beat that comes up several times, almost as often as jokes about toddlers playing with sex toys. There's also a great montage about police brutality and important lessons about accepting your gay bros. The one hope is that the bro-ocracy who will flock to this film will enjoy the spoonful of dankness that helps the social commentary go down. And maybe, just maybe, they'll come to the same realization that Teddy does: a lot of that stuff they did in the frat was really, really wrong.
A few problems-- This film is dragged down slightly by a sense of "been there, done that" not uncommon in sequels. The story beats and jokes aren't dissimilar to the first film. That, along with some truly terrible green screen work that looks like it was done on an iMac in PhotoBooth, are the major flaws in this movie. But, if you liked the first film's brand of humor, rushed the fraternity last time around and enjoyed it and are now invested in it, you'll have a good time.
Overall, this puts a fresh coat of paint on a formula that worked well in the first film, and works equally as well here. With an added layer of social commentary, it makes what would have been an otherwise humdrum retread into something new and enjoyable.
7.5 out of 10
And if you want another view of why this is basically everything that's wrong in America, go check out what that royal poof Adam thought about this.