By Michael Kaye
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (Review)
Comedy sequels have an extremely fine line to walk in order to be successful. It can't just be the first movie on repeat, yet you have to check off certain boxes that made the original a hit in the first place. The worst case scenario for a comedy sequel would be something like Hangover 2, while the best case scenario would be either Shrek 2 or Christmas Vaction. So which side of the fence will Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising fall? We're about to find out.
Here's the story. After a sorority moves in next door, which is even more debaucherous than the fraternity before it, Mac and Kelly have to ask for help from their former enemy, Teddy.
It's weird just how much this franchise parallels the original Ghostbusters. For example, the premise of Neighbors would not have been executed as well without this exact creative team of Nicholas Stoller in the director's chair, producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and stars Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne, much like how Ghostbusters wouldn't be as perfect without Ivan Reitman directing and the greatest ensemble cast ever of Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson. So what does that make Neighbors 2? Well, it's still a good movie, because it has the same creative team involved, but for reasons I'm about to explain, the overall magic of the original could not be fully replicated. Here are my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, the cast, both veterans and newcomers, are great! Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are just too perfect as a married couple, and their chemistry only got stronger since the previous film. As for Zac Efron, what the hell will it take for people to stop underestimating this guy!? After his next couple of films, I want to see him challenged a little more, maybe in a superhero film or a stab at an Oscar? And the same goes for Dave Franco, who doesn't have as big of a role as he did before, but still has some great scenes with Efron. As for the newbies, Chloë Grace Moretz and her two best friends Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein make great new foils for Mac and Kelly, as they're trying to keep everything under control while they're in escrow with potential buyers for their house.
Nicholas Stoller is a genius both as a writer and a director! There are some elements to the story that I'm not as happy about, and we'll get to that in the negatives, but for now, I'm glad he came back to this franchise. Having a great deal of experience writing and directing sequels and spin offs like Get Him to the Greek and Muppets Most Wanted, he understands exactly what made the originals great, and how to avoid sequelitis. I can tell Stoller was cut from the same cloth as Phil Lord and Chris Miller in terms of comedic sensibilities, because there are a few clever meta gags such as casting a celebrity like Kelsey Grammer to play Shelby's father, who tries to talk his daughter out of starting her own sorority.
Finally, what puts this franchise ahead of most films involving fraternities is a big fat heart. The one underlying theme that's consistent in both films revolves around the unbreakable bond of friendship. Even though everyone of Teddy's friends have moved on with their lives, they still remain good friends. As for the girls of Kappa Nu, while the whole world is seemingly against them, the last thing they plan on doing is giving up on their dream. Another theme that carries over from the first movie is growing up, and how both exciting and scary it can be. That's why Zac Efron's character is so relatable in this franchise, because he's not all that different from a lot of people his age. The fact that his story parallels Seth Rogen's is kinda brilliant, almost as if in a way, Rogen as passing the torch to Efron they both take new and interesting directions with their careers.
So what makes Neighbors 2 fall short from its predecessor. Personally, it's not a big deal, but for most people it could really make or break their enjoyment of the film. The motivation behind Shelby and her friends forming their own sorority seems a little too on the nose with certain themes of sexism and occasional racism. Some lines of dialogue really hammered me over the head with the message to the point where eventually I was thinking "okay, we get it!" The worst offender was probably Lisa Kudrow's checkbox cameo as the dean of the university.
Overall, I still had a blast with Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. It was great seeing all of the original cast reunited, and the new recruits made a nice addition as well. This is the kind of sequel that belongs in that same camp as Ghostbusters II and Anchorman 2, where they're solid films in their own right, with some elements better than the original, but when stacked up against their predecessors, they don't quite have the same shine.
I'm really curious to see what you guys have to say about this. What did you guys think of Neighbors 2, and how do you think it ranks among the various other comedy sequels? Is it as bad as Hangover 2, as great as Shrek 2, or is it smack dab in the middle? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next two reviews, where writer Shane Black takes what he learned from Lethal Weapon and applies that to his own directorial efforts in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and The Nice Guys!