Stoller manages to justify his sequel but Sorority Rising‘s parade of R-rated gags aren’t enough to hit the same highs (or longevity) as Neighbors.
Two years after their war with the brothers of hard-partying Delta Psi Beta, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) are in the process of selling their home. In preparation for the couple’s second child, the Radners have already purchased the house of their dreams (in a quiet suburb) and successfully courted buyers for their first home – buyers who required the sale be held in escrow for 30 days. Oblivious to the finer details of escrow, the Radners discover that, should their buyers back out of the pending sale, Mac and Kelly will be stuck with two mortgages – since they didn’t demand an escrow agreement on the house they are purchasing (a financial situation they simply cannot afford).
While the 30 day escrow isn’t ideal for the Radners, Mac and Kelly aren’t too concerned – until they find their former frat boy neighbor, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), has been hired by freshmen co-eds, Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), to turn the Delta Psi Beta house into a newly-formed sorority, Kappa Nu – the only sorority in town capable of throwing parties. As the 30 day countdown begins, the Radners must, once again, go to war with their neighboring greeks, shutting down loud parties and surviving retaliatory pranks – in the hopes of making it through escrow before their buyers become wise to the house full of noisy college kids next door.
From the same creative team that developed Neighbors (director Nicholas Stoller as well as writing partners Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien), Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a worthy follow-up – and will offer comedy fans a comparable experience to the first movie. Still, even though Stoller packs Neighbors 2 with witty callbacks, clever social commentary, and amusing comedic set pieces, this time, the laughs simply are not as fresh nor as loud. Not so much a criticism of Sorority Rising as an endorsement of the original Neighbors, there is plenty for audiences to enjoy in the sequel – even if that sequel isn’t quite as cohesive or impactful as its predecessor.
No doubt, most moviegoers didn’t need a nuanced story to enjoy what Neighbors offered; yet, strong characters and relatable coming-of-age struggles (as young adults and adults) certainly helped make Stoller’s film a refreshing surprise for moviegoers who weren’t immediately sold on the premise (or hard-R-rated gags). Even though there are numerous laugh-out-loud moments in Sorority Rising and, once again, likable characters to follow, the sequel is routinely weighted toward what will elicit a chuckle, rather than building a well-rounded mix of humor and heart. As a result, the jokes are more random than before, drama is often forced (rather than arrived at naturally), and characters are left (largely) unchanged by their experiences. That is to say, Sorority Rising is another fun misadventure with Mac, Kelly, and Teddy, but comes across as more comedy product than a tone-bending passion project.
Of course, for many Neighbors 2 viewers, prioritizing humorous scenarios over layered drama will be the right choice at every turn. The first film may have been elevated by a sweet sub-narrative but the selling point was always the young parents versus college kids premise – as well as jovial chemistry between Rogen, Byrne, and Efron (along with Dave Franco). Fortunately, the latter ingredient remains largely intact – as the three leads are equally fun in every one of their Sorority Rising scenes (whether together or separate). Rogen and Byrne are afforded a bit less to do this round, with bigger roles for their zany friends, Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula Blevins (Carla Gallo), but the Radners are still a lively foundation for the unfolding comedy mayhem.
Efron remains the highlight of the series – imbuing Teddy with the same child-like sincerity that made his shift from a charming (albeit overly-invested) frat boy to a biting comedy antagonist so rewarding. Teddy’s arc in Sorority Rising is equally endearing, even amidst the goofy shenanigans he’s caught in, and Efron gets a lot of mileage from self-deprecating jokes made at his own expense (as the “dumb” but “hot” guy) – with tongue-firmly-planted in his cheek. Unlike other players in Sorority Rising, Teddy actually walks away from the sequel with a bit more definition – while Efron, again, turns in a performance that proves he’s more talented than his detractors will admit.
New additions, playing the co-founders of Kappa Nu, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, and Beanie Feldstein, each hit their marks – but fall short of eclipsing the boys of Delta Psi Beta in characterization or memorable laughs. Moretz is a decent successor to Efron but where Neighbors charted the conflict between new parents and a group of senior frat boys on the verge of post-college adulthood, Sorority Rising introduces a young crew of freshman neighbors – who are away from home for the first time. It might sound like a small difference but with less common ground between the warring factions, there’s also less opportunity for fresh interactions. Instead, the Radners and girls of Kappa Nu spend most of their time reacting to the other, rather than interacting directly. For that reason, Sorority Rising‘s best moments are, most often, built on previously established characters, relationships, and call backs to the first movie – rarely giving the Kappa Nu girls a comedy beat that outshines Rogen, Byrne, or Efron.
Following after a mega-hit series debut, Sorority Rising is a worthwhile comedy sequel – an enjoyable reunion with lovable characters (and a clever enough effort to double-dip on a fruitful premise). Some jokes are rehashed, but many still land, and while the Neighbors 2 story is paired down (in terms of impactful character and social commentary), most moviegoers looking for a humorous diversion will not be disappointed. Nevertheless, where Neighbors is positioned to be a well-loved comedy favorite that fans will revisit, the sequel falls short of the bar set by its predecessor. Stoller manages to justify his sequel but Sorority Rising‘s parade of R-rated gags aren’t enough to hit the same highs (or longevity) as Neighbors.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising runs 92 minutes and is Rated R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying. Now playing in theaters.
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