Comedy sequels are tough. Extremely tough. The lightening in a bottle nature of comedy is already hard enough in an initial entry, having to subvert expectations and knock a solid amount of jokes out the park enough to entertain audiences. Luckily, writer/star Seth Rogen & director Nicholas Stoller managed to turn 2014’s Neighbors into a bonafide hit that made over eight times its budget in the US alone. So… how do you follow that up? One can’t just have a retread of a frat moving in, falling into the comedy sequel trap that made the concept a dry well for solid hits. Well instead of focusing on a bunch of bros partying at a frat, why not focus on a few sisters trying to fight for an equal right to party without – to paraphrase another Beastie Boys song – being treated as girls to just sexually objectify? Thus, we have Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.
With the first Neighbors, the most consistent elements revolved around the disgruntled confusion of Zac Efron and Dave Franco as they dealt with the end of college. Sure, Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen were funny, but had the more dry contradiction element of being parents while being irresponsible without progressing in a genuine way beyond the acknowledgement step. Franco and Efron in particular were much more the heart of that film as their childish antics held together a crucial moment in a young person’s life where things become hazy. Now for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising that crucial moment is the start of college, where three freshman (Chloe Moretz, Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein) want to find their own way as friends wanting to expand their horizons comfortably in a system that means to objectify them. It’s a modern spin on the lovable partying films of Animal House, one represented by the old guard in Efron mentoring them in how to run a Greek house. This contrast allows for Efron to shine as the film’s greatest asset, with an affable idiot charm that’s far more consistent for hilarious jokes and an oddly – if slightly truncated due to a disappointing lack of Franco – arc about finding yourself in a post-grad slump.
Then, we have Rogen and Byrne. Their antics become far more oppressive here, given Rose Byrne‘s real life pregnancy bled into the plot in a way that doesn’t allow for her to do much of the fun raunchy behavior of her first outing, instead being relegated to a few one off jokes or a speech to rally people. On the other side of this coin, Seth Rogen is further turned into a moron, including being sent on a rather poorly CGIed wild goose chase that wants to be a humorous bit of a cat & mouse game, but feels like a lame brained stab at a cartoonish gag. Speaking of which, the rather poorly implemented over the top slapstick from the first film returns in spades to even more diminishing returns. Rogen has proven himself far more competent at dialogue based character humor rather than slapstick, which here constantly seems like visually augmented retreads of Jackass stunts. Add in even more of the intolerably obnoxious Ike Barinholtz and you’ve got a plot that draws the joke train to a sudden halt during the second act.
There’s a conflicting nature to Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. The progressive edge is far more endearing than anyone would expect out of a comedy sequel, one that shines a light on an actual unjust rule against young women being able to enjoy themselves on their own terms. Yet, it’s constantly countered with a storyline focused on our older characters that seems to regress its characters and the easy fixes to their issues for the sake of cheaper laughs. An entire film centered around these girls seeking frat wisdom from Efron would have probably been for the better, as any sort of vehicle with far more Zac Efron would honestly be in their best interest. Between his incredible dancing skills and flawless comedic timing, the former High School Musical star has far more potential to spurt out like roast beef grease all over his gorgeous abs. His gorgeous… gorgeous abs. So even with its issues, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising can at least say this much: it crosses the incredibly low benchmark of being a tolerable comedy sequel.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Hard Boiled Eggs