The success of 2014’s rowdy off-campus comedy Neighbors was a happy curveball, like the guy you picked up at a freshman mixer for his great abs who actually turned out to be smart and funny, too—a bro with a heart of gold and a surprisingly high verbal SAT score.
The movie also made more than $270 million globally, so it seemed almost inevitable that there would be a sequel. Just two years later Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has arrived, and if the first film was a frat boy with bigger aspirations, its hastily conceived follow-up is the dude—or as the title implies, approximately 30 gonzo girls—who really just came to party. Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) return as the thirtyish pair raising their now toddler daughter and expecting a second; they’ve already bought a new house in the suburbs for their expanding family and found a nice couple (Veep’s Sam Richardson and Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson) to move into the old one when their Realtor delivers the bad-news asterisk: a dirty word called escrow. It means the buyers have 30 days to back out of the sale for any reason—like, say, a sudden influx of spliff-rolling, Snapchatting teenage sociopaths on their peaceful block.
Mac and Kelly aren’t expecting trouble, having already waged and won their War of the Broses with nightmares-next-door Delta Psi Beta the last time around. But there can be no sequel without conflict and, apparently, no comedy without Zac Efron’s lightly furred nipples. Enter Teddy Sanders, Neighbors’ chief architect of air-bag pranks and general mayhem, returning here as a sort of freelance mentor/hot house-dad for the just-formed sorority Kappa Nu.
Efron’s character has graduated from college since we last saw him, but just barely, and he’s more than a little adrift in his job at Abercrombie & Fitch. (Employees are no longer allowed to work topless, and he’s realized he might be the oldest guy there: “I had to cover for my boss Mason because he had to go to his prom,” he says mournfully.) So he jumps at the chance to help Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her “sisters” kick-start Kappa, a house that defies the Greek system’s rules by letting its members wild out as freely as the boys do. We’re supposed to take this as some form of millennial feminism, but mostly it just seems like a chance to be as equal-opportunity awful as the guys who came before. The girls never develop cohesive personalities, and the slapstick-heavy script—credited, tellingly, to five different writers—quickly tosses out any semblance of pacing, pinballing from one raunchy punchline to the next. (The goofy sweetness of Rogen and Byrne’s interplay has also been sidelined, and the visual gags are a lot gaggier, in both senses of the word.) You’ll probably laugh hard more than once; Sorority Rising is still rich in bikinis and bong rips and boner jokes. It just doesn’t have much heart. C+