Disjointed Screenplay Lays Waste To "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"

Not only does “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” bear the burden of being a needless sequel to a terrifically funny movie; it packs enough storylines for two needless sequels, all listlessly crashing into one another. One continues the tale of star-crossed homeowners Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) Radner. Another offers a forward-thinking essay on sexism inside the college Greek system. Another still centers on former frat boy Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) navigating the difficulties of late-onset adulthood. Each is fine in its own right – Efron steals the show once again – but they’re all noticeably disconnected and low on laughs, undoubtedly a symptom of the screenplay’s five – count ‘em – five different screenwriters.

In addition to Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, who wrote the original, Rogen, creative partner Adam Goldberg, and director Nicholas Stoller are all credited writers here. The Frankenstein-ness of it all is obvious from the get go, with a first act so wonkily paced that it might as well be a supercut of three separate comedies.

Mac, Kelly, and their 2 year-old daughter Stella are about to move into a bigger house. Their current abode is spoken for but it’s in escrow, meaning the buyers have thirty days to back out. The frat next door has moved out, leaving our heroes in the clear. But wait! A start-up sorority (Kappa Nu) is moving in. The would-be sorority sisters in question – Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) – are three free-spirited college freshmen longing for a social life freed from the constraints of the Greek system (read: creepy frat bros and the inexplicable fact that sororities aren’t allowed to host parties). Their express purpose is to party long and hard into every night, leaving the Radner’s long in the lurch. Again.

Institutional chauvinism is a bold choice of topic for a raunchy comedy sequel, but the messaging ends up mixed. The girls don’t so much transform the Greek system as they do bump up against it, being reduced to desperate drug dealers in the process. A bizarre step towards social progress, to be sure. More awkwardly, Kappa Nu’s inevitable prank war with Mac and Kelly is more reductive than funny, hitting the exact same beats as the first film – just with a different drumstick.

Efron’s corner of the film is the most convoluted of all. Teddy’s best friend Pete (Dave Franco) gets engaged, with the happy couple immediately bouncing Teddy from his own pad. Left to do some soul-searching at his old frat house, Teddy connects with its new tenants (Shelby and company), volunteering to guide them to the top. Efron’s weird comic energy is enough to keep his scenes from feeling like an afterthought, but they’re undeniably wedged into the movie. His ultimate switch of loyalties is perfunctory at best, one of several hastily applied narrative push pins holding the project together.

Stoller’s direction is a bright spot, with a weed-based heist scene matching the goofball energy of the first film. Moreover, the filmmaker is an expert at pushing and pulling his actors, creating a dynamism in each performance. Ike Barinholtz, as underused as he is here, is a textbook example. He kills again as Mac’s best friend Jimmy, getting huge laughs out of brief, idiotic exchanges that most directors wouldn’t think to provoke.

But the script is off. Rogen and Byrne are absent for long stretches of the film, their screen presence badly missed. Byrne especially gets nothing much to do. Moreover, Dave Franco, a highlight of the original, is reduced to an extended cameo, his amazing rapport with Efron cut down to a few minutes of screen time. And as fresh as the screenplay’s take on college life is, none of the sorority sisters are fully-formed characters. It’s Byrne’s character who ends up giving them more characterization than they develop on their own, ultimately delivered in a great monologue that’s much better than the movie it’s in.

The first film was dim but frequently uproarious. “Neighbors 2” is better intentioned but not nearly as fun, marking a less than fair trade. All involved get points for avoiding a stereotypically bad comedy sequel, but “Neighbors” fans deserve better. Or, at least, funnier.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: May 20, 2016
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Screenwriter: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Seth Rogen, Nicholas Stoller, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Selena Gomez, Lisa Kudrow
MPAA Rating: R (for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying)