With one hand you can probably count the best comedy sequels. Your mileage may vary when it comes to best, of course. My top five would have the likes of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; Pixar’s Toy Story 2; 22 Jump Street; Army of Darkness; and Back to the Future Part II. Most sequels are re-treads of their originals, reusing many of the same gags that made us laugh in the first place. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is no different with the exception of replacing the brothers of Delta Psi Beta with the freshman girls of Kappa Nu. A switch of chromosomes may not sound like a big deal but the influx of estrogen does the trick in moving beyond the realm of frat parties to girls-just-want-to-have-fun-and-watch-The-Fault-in-Our-Stars parties.
Now did Neighbors need a sequel? Absolutely not. But when an $18 million comedy makes more than $200 million from a pure financial standpoint Universal execs couldn’t resist green-lighting another one. The major players from the original are back, including Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne, as is director Nicholas Stoller.
At the onset, Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Byrne) are in the process of selling their home. With another baby on the way the Radners have purchased a new home in the suburbs where the lots are bigger and the neighbors are not so close. They have buyers for their current dwelling but there’s a catch: the sale is in escrow for 30 days. Nodding like bobbleheads at the time the decision was made with their real estate agent, the Radners had no clue what escrow meant at the time. They still don’t. Still, it’s just thirty days – what could possibly go wrong? The buyers back out and Mac and Kelly would be up to their eyeballs in debt with two mortgages that’s what. Aside from the smell of pungent bong water and catching baby Stella with her favorite vibrating toy (Thanks, mom!) Mac and Kelly remain confident that the sale will happen – until Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), their former frat boy neighbor, pops back into their lives. He takes on an advisory (adversarial?) role for freshman co-eds, Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), to turn the old Delta Psi Beta house into a newly-formed sorority Kappa Nu.
While the Nus have no clear mission statement, the intent of their sorority is clear: to throw parties where alcohol is consumed. Apparently fraternities are the only ones privileged to have keggers. Sexism much? When the 30-day countdown commences, the Radners once again find themselves in a war with their neighboring greeks. Loud parties and retaliatory shenanigans ensue.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising follows the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it playbook in calling back some of the gags of the original, only slightly modified. The laughs are not as loud this time around, however. What is worthy of note, weirdly enough, is its social commentary. Stoller and his scriptwriting team (which includes original scribes Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien along with frequent collaborators Rogen and Evan Goldberg) do more than switch a fraternity for a sorority. They make sure that women’s rights is not left on the back burner. They even address one character’s homosexuality and not make it a punch line. For Seth Rogen this is a giant leap for someone who began his ascent to comedy stardom with “You know how I know you’re gay?” riffs with Paul Rudd in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
In Neighbors the biggest surprise was a scene-stealing Rose Byrne. This time it is Zac Efron who gets a gold star. No longer an outdoor model, flexing and shirtless in front of an Abercrombie & Fitch, Teddy Sanders finds himself the third wheel when best friend Pete (Dave Franco) wants him to move out so his fiance can move in. Teddy’s in his early twenties and without direction. I’m sure there are those who can relate. It’s never addressed if he finished night classes to get his college degree. Even still, I don’t think he can get away with putting slippery when wet with body oil as a skill on a job resume.
Neighbors 2 does not have a high laugh count but chuckle you just may. The jokes are random in their delivery and aside from Teddy’s arc, where self-deprecating jokes about his hotness reveal his softer side, the characters remain unchanged for the most part. And as talented as Moretz, Clemons and Feldstein are as the co-founders of Kappu Nu, they fall short of Efron and the boys of Delta Psi Beta. The Radners have no common ground with the warring Nus, where as in the original Mac and Kelly still believed they could be parents and hang with the cool kids. So their interaction is more reactionary this time around. No, the best moments are reserved for the already established characters and relationships. Sorry girls.
I don’t suspect Neighbors will become an American Pie series of DTV releases with a reunion film in a decade or so (unless Rogen and Efron have a house payment to make), but as a one-off sequel it will entertain most who enjoyed the first and not expecting the same laugh-to-joke ratio.
Director: Nicholas Stoller Writer(s): Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg Notable cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Ike Barinhnoltz, Clara Mamet
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!