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There Goes the Neighborhood

Universal Pictures
 92 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed byNicholas Stoller 
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron
Neighbors 2 Sorority Rising

The primary reason that most sequels fail creatively, if not at the box office, is that they aren’t sequels so much as they are remakes. The main characters do the exact same things again and, in general, wind up with the exact same results. Of course, audiences won’t pay good money to see the same movie a second time, so the filmmakers make just enough cosmetic changes so they can launch a promotional campaign built around those changes. A textbook example of this phenomenon is Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.


The original Neighbors was somewhat of a surprise box office success that pitted a suburban married couple against their next door neighbors, who happened to be a houseful of rowdy college frat boys, whose favorite (and seemingly only) pastimes were sex, booze, and drugs. Since one of those neighbors was Seth Rogen, however, the married couple wasn’t as totally cluelessly square as often happens in this type of movie. But, without spoiling the original movie, the filmmakers did not leave any loose ends that would naturally lend themselves to a sequel.


So, instead of doing something original like putting Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Rose Byrne) in a completely new environment that nonetheless take advantage of the chemistry they displayed in the first film, director Nicholas Stoller instead gives the Radners a new set of neighbors that are practically indistinguishable from the previous residents.


This time around, instead of senior frat boys led by the perpetually adolescent Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), Stoller and his team of screenwriters (including himself, Rogen, and Rogen’s writing partner Evan Greenberg), give the Radners a group of freshman co-eds, led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), as their new neighbors. In an effort to give Neighbors 2 some social relevance, the writers hang their story on an actual odd quirk in the bylaws of many sororities. Namely, the sororities are not allowed to throw parties in their own houses on campus; instead, they must hold the parties in conjunction with fraternities. Needless to say, at least in the campus world of Neighbors 2, the frat parties are exercises in debauchery and debasement, most of which have themes that involve the word “hoes.”


In order to attract new members to her sorority (and be able to pay the rent), Shelby enlists the aid of Teddy Sanders, who, not surprisingly, is an unemployed loser. Her recruitment efforts include throwing the same types of loud, noisy, drunken parties that went on during the frat house regime and starting a sideline of selling pot to her fellow students.


Mac and Kelly are understandably upset about their new neighbors, not only because of the familiar noise factor, but also because they’ve just sold the house and bought another in the suburbs. Unfortunately, there’s an escrow clause in the deed so the new buyers can back out within 30 days if they find something wrong. And, since an obnoxious group of partying college students would strike most people as “something wrong,” Mac and Kelly have to figure out how to get rid of the new neighbors before their buyers find out.


Although Neighbors 2 pays lip service to the notion of social relevance, when push comes to shove, Shelby and her friends are just as willing to turn themselves into drunken, sex-crazed idiots as the frat boys wanted them to appear. And the movie also contains a gay subplot that involves new information about some of the characters from the first film. That storyline is neither funny nor the least bit realistic.


As Neighbors 2 slogs its way to a highly predictable ending, the filmmakers trot out the same array of sex and drug jokes they used in the first movie. Some of these are funny (the Radners’ baby has an amazing habit of discovering and playing with all sorts of adult novelty devices), but many are not (the frat girls use tampons as a particularly disgusting substitute for water balloons). Then there are some that fly in the face of the movie’s rather pathetic claim to social relevance (making the sorority fat girl, played by Jonah Hill’s sister Beanie Feldstein, the butt of far too many jokes.


As the extremely buff and rather brainless Teddy, Zac Efron is the butt of a lot of the film’s humor. He seems to be rapidly cornering the himbo market, taking his shirt off at the drop of a hat and flexing his muscles. Efron has considerable comic talent, but he’s rapidly becoming typecast. Another similar comedy gimmick that is wearing out its welcome as well is the sight of the considerably less buff Seth Rogen taking his shirt off as well.


Crude comedy never goes out of style, and Neighbors 2 is as crude as they come. But far too much of the film’s humor is recycled from the first film. Elaborate schemes from both the Radners and their sorority foes are practically the same as the ones on display in the first film. The chemistry between Rogen and Byrne is still good, and Neighbors remains one of the few vehicles that adequately exploits Byrne’s comic talents. The end result is about 30 minutes of decent jokes in a 90-minute comedy that founders badly when the jokes don’t work.


As unneeded film sequels go, Neighbors 2 is far from the worst out there, and undemanding audiences will probably find enough chuckles here and there to make the experience seem worthwhile. But the entire effort seems lazy, from the jokes to some of the performances to the ridiculous action sequence in which the Radners try to steal the sorority’s stash of marijuana the girls are selling at the big football game tailgate party. The neighborly thing to do is for the Neighbors franchise to retire permanently. 

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Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016) on IMDb