As far as pointless retreads go, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising at least takes a stab at becoming something more substantial than its predecessor. That it fails to do so can be largely laid at the feet of its five (!) credited writers and the same lackluster director as the first installment, along with a uniformly uninspired revisitation of the same jokes that landed (or didn’t, depending on your assessment) the last time around. While it might engender a few legitimate laughs along the way, Neighbors 2 lacks the verve and novelty of the original.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to avoid comparisons to the first film. Neighbors 2 is essentially the same movie, with the exception of a gender-swap that impacts the story far less than you might expect. This film substitutes a sorority for a fraternity, and feminist themes for its predecessor’s focus on the struggles of entering early adulthood — but the story remains largely unchanged. It should be admirable that Neighbors 2 devotes attention to such problems as sexual assault on college campuses and our society’s continued insistence on curtailing autonomy and independence for women. However, the interminably stupid script hobbles any chance this story may have had for achieving significance beyond the standard raunch-com. To say that the script is lazy is an extreme understatement. Just exactly why this movie, which is rehashing a story that was told beat-for-beat two years ago, needed to burn so much exposition to re-establish characters from the last film — but who barely appear in this one — has continued to escape me long after the credits rolled.
Nicholas Stoller’s direction is as tepid and lifeless as ever, producing a film that looks rushed and cheap. Extensive edits (excising story beats now apparent by their conspicuous absence) have done Neighbors 2 no favors. Scenes present in the trailer are nowhere to be found. The narrative, perfunctory as it is, seems to have sacrificed space that should’ve been occupied by connective story tissue in favor of excessive improvisation and a few notable, but extraneous, cameos.
The sad truth of the matter is those cameos are often far more interesting than the central cast. Kelsey Grammer’s turn as Chloë Grace Moretz’s empty-nest afflicted father is a highlight, as is Hannibal Buress’ brief revisitation of the deranged police officer he portrayed in the first film. That these actors are relegated to one scene apiece is particularly unfortunate, especially since Rogen and Byrne’s characters, who were at least awkwardly likable last go-round, seem utterly reprehensible here. Moretz may well be the perfect replacement for Zac Efron as the film’s personification of disaffected adolescent anarchy, but this is only because her generally flat effect and lack of emotional range so closely reflect Efron’s limited palette. (I might have assumed this vacuity to be an intentional choice on the part of the actress had I not also seen her performance in The 5th Wave.) Efron is certainly much more effective returning to his role as the lout than he was as the overly serious stick-in-the-mud he played in Dirty Grandpa. But his character has been deprived of what little nuance the first Neighbors picture might have granted him and is presented here as a one-note-joke, existing only to forward the plot rather than for any character-driven contribution to context.
When Zac Efron’s abs can be considered the most well-defined character in a given film, that film has issues. Can one really consider a movie to be feminist in its aims when all it’s done is replace dildo jokes with bloody tampon jokes? Probably not, especially when that movie still manages to find room to squeeze in the dildo jokes anyway. My assessment may have been more positive had I screened the film with a more receptive audience. But there’s no escaping the fact that Neighbors 2 feels less like the essential progeny of its predecessor and more like some financially necessitated abomination a sadistic editor cobbled together from the constituent pieces of the first film. No amount of hastily grafted sociological subtext can redeem the unnatural existence of a film that should not be. But, hey, pot jokes and Zac Efron’s cartoonishly elongated testicles? Who doesn’t want to see that? Other than me, of course. Rated R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying.