‘Neighbors 2’ Review | Just Say “Neigh”
You can set your watch to most comedy sequels. They have a frustrating tendency to A) revisit every single gag that made the original worth sequelizing in the first place, and B) bend over backwards to make sure the exact same plot happens again to the exact same people. And since familiarity is the arch-nemesis of laughter, this means that most comedy sequels – not all, but most – are awful.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising isn’t awful, but let’s not go overboard with all of this praise. It’s still a frustrating, only sporadically funny follow-up to a much better original film. The situations have changed but only a little, and those changes are the best things about it.
The first Neighbors starred Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as new parents, struggling with the fact that their youth is over. So it was especially frustrating for them when an awesome fraternity moved in next door, forcing them to confront those anxieties head on, leading to an ongoing feud that escalated exponentially over time. It was a solid foundation for comedy, with enough of an actual theme that you actually grew to like all the characters by the end of the film.
So now, after everyone grew up in the first Neighbors, this sequel sets about the annoying task of making them all return to their original roles, whether or not that makes sense. Rogen and Byrne are concerned now that they’re not mature enough to be parents, so they have to learn basically the same lesson about the value of embracing adulthood. And Zac Efron, who made his peace with Rogen at the end of the first film, no longer remembers that he did that. So now when he’s forced to vacate his apartment, he sets up shop next door again and helps a newly founded sorority make Rogen and Byrne’s life a living hell. Again.
The only thing keeping Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising from being the next The Hangover Part 2 (and that wouldn’t be a good thing) is the sorority. Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein play college freshman who are eager to make friends, but discover that the Greek Life is built on a foundation of grotesque sexism. So they decide to start their own sorority, only to discover that their primary motivation for doing so – partying – runs counter to the sort of responsible management that keeps a sorority running smoothly.
Mortez, Clemons, Feldstein and their rapidly growing army of pledges (the youngest are forced to dress and act like Minions, which is one of the movie’s funnier jokes) could have carried a whole movie by themselves. Their story is grotesquely fascinating. Watching them devolve from wallflowers into party monsters is kind of like watching Jeff Goldblum turn into The Fly, but with more weed and less pus. That’s what makes watching them finally pull themselves together at the end so pleasant and satisfying.
And that’s what makes the majority of Neighbors 2 so damned annoying, because it’s not all about that. We have to watch the cast from the original Neighbors devolve for the sake of contrivance, not for the sake of their story. And that falsehood takes up most of the film. Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron are funny people and they still manage to get a few hearty chuckles out of their screen time (Byrne makes an Insidious reference that’s worth at least one solid “guffaw”), but they don’t belong here.
By trying to recapture the magic of the original, Neighbors 2 has disproved the existence of magic. The film’s finer qualities are held back by the rigid formula, and the rigid formula is rigid, and formulaic. I know we’re supposed to “love thy neighbor,” but there’s nothing in that rulebook about “loving thy Neighbors 2,” and this movie clearly demonstrates why.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.