Similar to video game movies and low-budget possession horror, comedy sequels are amongst the groups of films that have earned a bit of pessimism from audiences just walking into the theater. After all, the track record from Hollywood is absolutely dismal, and we’ve sadly come to expect same-y plots, “funny callbacks” that are really just reused jokes, and evidence that the studio and filmmakers weren’t quite sure what made audiences buy tickets to see the original. This history means that Nicholas Stoller’s Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising arrives in theaters with a certain degree of expectation for disappointment, but the good news is that the follow-up successfully manages to be a surprisingly fun one – even though it’s not quite able to avoid all the comedy sequel sins.
Scripted by Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg - the same team that put together the first Neighbors - the sequel picks up a short while after the events of the original, and finds Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) both getting ready to have their second child and preparing to move. They’ve purchased their new home and have sold their old one, but are left to wait through 30 days of escrow to make sure that the deal goes though. It’s unfortunately at this precise time that a brand new menace shows up in the former Delta Psi Beta house next door: a sorority.
This new Greek house is headed up by Shelby (Chloe Moretz), a Freshman at the local college who finds herself disgusted by all the bro-y/rape-y frat parties and shocked to learn that it is illegal for sororities to throw parties in their own housing. Joining up with a small group of other girls (Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein), Shelby makes steps to start her own sorority in the house next door to Mac and Kelly – finding unexpected help from Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who continues to struggle with what to do with his life and wants some revenge for the criminal record he got from the events of the first movie. The two factions find themselves going to war, the adults wanting the girls to be invisible until escrow clears, and the kids just wanting the right to party how they want.
Yes, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has what is basically the same plot from the first movie only gender-swapped, and to the film’s detriment, it really does play as the path of least resistance creativity-wise. To the sequel’s credit, however, it does take what is a fairly easy set-up and makes the most out of it. The law that allows frats to party while sorority’s can’t is eye-opening and absolutely ridiculous in the 21st century, and it’s utilized in the story in such a way that it actually gives Neighbors 2 a certain edge over the original. Seeing what Shelby and her friends have to put up with, you root for them to get their way because they deserve a safe, comfortable and fun college environment – but at the same time, you don’t want to see their happiness come at the expense of the lovely Mac and Kelly, who have really done nothing to deserve the real estate hell they’ve been put through. There’s a greater balance in perspective on the movie’s key conflict, and it adds a level of depth most comedy sequels can’t find.
The film mostly loses points for not venturing too far away from the structure of the first movie, but it wins a lot back by succeeding in what is unquestionably the most important category for a comedy: it’s more often than not really funny. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne again prove to have great comedic chemistry together, and Ike Barinholtz is once again a scene stealer – particularly when running around wearing some incredibly disturbing clown makeup. There are examples of going back to the well, with returning gags featuring car airbags, but Neighbors 2 also has a few great recurring jokes that get big laughs (such as the vibrator that Mac and Kelly’s daughter has embraced as her favorite toy).
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising isn’t as good as its predecessor, but it’s a fun comedy made by smart, talented people, and it’s certainly a lot better than you would expect. Between this film and Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 22 Jump Street, there’s definite hope that the stigma of the comedy sequel will start to fade away.