By Chaz Lipp
There are enough solid laughs distributed throughout Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising for it to qualify as a very modest success. Trouble is, the team of five screenwriters (up from the two who penned the 2014 original) didn’t find a true focus (or sense of purpose) for this sequel. Nor did they really stay true to the outcome of the first film. At the end of that one Teddy (Zac Efron) had matured, realizing he couldn’t be a frat boy for life. And he achieved peace with next-door-rival Mac (Seth Rogen). That’s pretty much dropped without explanation in order to pit Teddy against Mac and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) all over again.
Speaking of Mac and Kelly, the first film presented some knowing observations about the half-generation gap that 30-ish parents feel when confronted by barely-adult college kids. In the first film, Mac and Kelly comically struggled with the realization that they’re not quite young anymore. That neatly paralleled Teddy and best friend Pete’s (Dave Franco) growing awareness that they might be getting too old to party all the time.
Not nearly that much thoughtfulness was invested in Sorority Rising. Instead, Mac and Kelly are reduced to supporting players in their own film. They’re selling their home and have prospective buyers on the hook. Enter Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), a pot-smoking party girl who wants to launch her own sorority. Soon after pledging Phi Lamda, she’s informed by that sorority’s president (Selena Gomez, completely wasted in a very brief cameo) that drugs and parties aren’t allowed. Teddy has struck out on his own now that Pete is getting married to a guy (for no apparent reason, Pete is revealed to have been living a closeted life in the previous film). With nothing better to do, he assists Shelby and her new “sisters” in setting up a sorority house next door to Mac and Kelly.
Sorority Rising would have you believe that it’s furthering a feminist cause—”hey, girls can get drunk and stoned just like guys!” Part of the trouble is, Shelby and her gal pals(including Jonah Hill’s sister Beanie Feldstein) are written so thinly there’s no reason to root for them at any level. They just seem like typical witless slackers who’d prefer to walk through college perpetually wasted. Maybe it is unfair that fraternities can party but sororities can’t, it just feels like Shelby and company have their priorities mixed up. They’re fighting for what they believe in, but with such low goals their fight isn’t compelling.
Don’t think about Neighbors 2 too much and it gets its basic job done. Enough sight gags and throwaway punchlines hit their target, making it worth a look for those who enjoyed the first film. It’s just an unfortunate case of greatly diminished returns when there was enough talent present that the already-modest standards of the original should’ve been met.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Image: Universal Pictures