It's hard making a good comedy sequel nowadays. Heck, it's hard making them any time, but lately there have been a lot more hits than misses. Just look at Anchorman, Zoolander, and The Hangover sequels as examples of how to screw up everything that worked in the first place. On the surface, a sequel to 2014's outrageously funny Neighbors seems a likely candidate for failure. The comic magic created by Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, and Rose Byrne may have worked once, but could they capture it again only two years later? Fortunately, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is not one of those failures. It's the rare case of a comedy sequel that is even better than the original.
And that's high praise because Neighbors was pretty great, and surprisingly insightful in its exploration of a young-ish married couple dealing with their rambunctious pasts by facing off against a pack of unhinged frat boys. Neighbors 2 reunites all of the same characters and smartly re-positions them a few steps forward into new phases of their lives, without losing the ballsy antics we come to expect from a Rogen comedy.
That continuity, that sense of moving forward, means a lot. As wild and unbelievable as much of Neighbors 2 is, it's grounded by characters we can relate to. This time around Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne, always amazing and having a Hell of a month) are expecting their second child, but first they want to sell their inconveniently-located home and move elsewhere. They manage to pull off the sale, but due to their comical inability to understand what "escrow" is, they have to keep everything perfect for 30 days so as not to scare off the buyers. Good luck with that, because a trio of college freshmen: Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), just moved into the former frat house next door to start their own hard-partying sorority, Kappa Nu. Meanwhile, the Adonis-like Teddy (Efron) is adrift in life, the oldest model working at Abercrombie & Finch, and suddenly homeless now that his best bud Pete (Dave Franco) is getting married to his longtime boyfriend (yes, Teddy came out between movies) and needs the apartment.
Teddy gets his groove back when he connects with the gals of Kappa Nu, but they aren't just interested in drinking and partying. Okay, they are, but their reasons are sound and well-reasoned. They tried pledging a typical sorority (led by Selena Gomez in a brief cameo) but discovered that only frats can throw parties, which means they're all crazy sexist and objectifying. So the girls went off to do their own thing as a show of feminine strength. And here's the cool thing about it all: Mac and Kelly are totally down with that. They want to be on the girls' team here, for obvious reasons. They already have one daughter (played by the same young actress, which is both cool and endearing) with another on the way. Sure, they may be awful parents who can't keep their child away from mom's dildo (nor can they spell "sorority"), but they want their daughter to grow up believing she can do anything men can do. It's a worthwhile message that is repeated in various ways throughout, without becoming heavy-handed.
Of course, Mac and Kelly eventually find themselves at odds against their new neighbors, leading to increasingly dangerous and down-right gross stunts. There's more fun with airbags, but otherwise Neighbors 2 doesn't just rehash the same old gags from the first movie. While the framework feels familiar, mostly the jokes are totally fresh. That includes the film's biggest set piece, a Michael Bay-esque drug heist set at a tailgate party. And there's just a completely different dynamic having them square off against a group of strong-willed young women. The trio of Moretz, Clemons, and Feldstein are great in capturing their characters' combination of independence and ignorance, while showing the comedic strength to measure up with their veteran co-stars. Clemons, who was arguably the best part of last year's indie favorite, Dope, proves she's got a bright future ahead of her. Meanwhile, many may be unaware that Feldstein is the sister of Jonah Hill. Knowing that I defy you to not see and hear her brother because they are remarkably similar. Like scarily similar.
This point has been made before that you can follow Seth Rogen's path to semi-responsible adult by watching his movies. Elements of the irresponsible schlub from Knocked Up are still there in just about every character he plays, but Neighbors 2 is his way of figuring out what it means to be a parent. The script takes its hardest shots at the meathead bro culture that was so much a part of Rogen's earlier films, while delivering a message that at least attempts to be feminist. The actual point it's trying to make is a little confusing, and that hurts the sorority characters just a little. They just don't get the same time commitment that Rogen, Byrne, and Efron get. Speaking of Efron, he's once again brilliant as Teddy, and it's safe to say he's finally coming into his own as a comedy star. Efron gets Teddy's simple good-hearted nature, but also his simple-minded brain. He's so sweet that you can't be mad at him for being dumb and gorgeous.
Clocking in at only 90 minutes, the film gets in and gets out, but this is one time when a little more time wouldn't have hurt. Five more minutes might be ten or twenty more laughs, honestly. Who knows how long it can stay at such an incredibly high level, but Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising cements this as the comedy franchise worth pledging to.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5