Movie Review - Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
By Ben Gruchow
May 26, 2016
The ads for Neighbors 2 showcase a bikini strung over a fence, with the implication being that the second film in the unlikely franchise would largely be a continuation of the original's escalating series of pranks-verging-on-criminal-assault. No better argument can be made for the lapse in attendance for this film; the majority of comedy sequels contain more than their share of repetition, but they're not usually as up-front about promising exactly that repetition in their marketing materials.
It's simultaneously gratifying and irritating that the film itself contains little in the way of actual repetition: gratifying because the ongoing storyline and the clean cut of most of the jokes result in a rare sequel that often equals the pretty-good original and occasionally surpasses it (especially in its first half), irritating because that many fewer people will be there in the theater to see it happen, and because its quest to not re-hash the same storyline leaves the new one at a comparative disadvantage.
The movie takes place some unspecified length of time after Neighbors concluded, but it really could be within a day or two: Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) are about to have their second child, and decide it's time to move out of their starter home and into a bigger one. Their house is in a 30-day escrow with a buyer; they have a don't-screw-anything up period while inspections are performed, during which the buyers can pull out of the offer for any reason. This timing collides with three college students, led by Shelby (Chlöe Grace Moretz) and disillusioned with the rampant sexism and fraternity-favoring atmosphere on campus, to lease the house next door for their new sorority, Kappa Nu. Neighbors 2 also picks up the story and thematic threads belonging to the remaining Delta Psi Beta frat brothers - at least, the only two of them that really matter: Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco).
This is crucial to the overall effect of the film, and not necessarily in a good way. For all of the screen time devoted to the progression of these characters - and it is not insignificant - we are quite clearly meant to invest ourselves with Shelby and Co., as they inherit the old frat house and basically proceed to transgress the same social boundaries as Teddy and Co. The issue here is that neither Shelby nor her friends are terrifically interesting individuals. Shelby herself is actually pretty dull, which goes so far against Moretz's nature as a performer that it's almost profane; this is the individual that sometimes made parts of The 5th Wave almost worth watching, after all. Early on, Shelby is left disillusioned by the stodgy and overly subservient mannerisms of the big sorority on campus; in a scene with fellow potential pledges Beth and Nora, we get some vague sense that Shelby feels the gender-based injustice and double standard (“I'm sick of people telling us what to do!” she exclaims), but only really on the remote level of a privileged kid chafing at social expectations - and this was done better in the 2014 film.