2014’s Neighbors was a pleasant surprise. It was raunchy and edgy without ever being mean-spirited or unpleasant. Not an easy task for a movie-going public that continually wants to see the bar raised on how far comedies are willing to go. As popular as the film was, it seems highly unlikely anyone said “you know, this was great, but it’s Neighbors 2 that I’m waiting for!” on the way out of the theater. We may not have asked for it, but welcome to what a $150+ million domestic haul on an $18 million budget gets you. Like most contemporary comedy sequels, Neighbors 2 is essentially the same film as Neighbors, minus the freshness and purpose of existence.
Taking place four years after the first film, the Radners, Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne), have a daughter with a second child on the way. They’ve miraculously found buyers for their home, likely due to the fraternity from the first film no longer living next door. All they need is thirty days of peace and quiet during the escrow period and the sale is final. Enter Shelby (Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), three girls looking to start their own sorority after getting fed up with the frat party scene. Through coincidence that need not concern us, the three meet the Radner’s old nemesis, Teddy (Efron), who promptly helps the girls get the sorority up and running on his old stomping grounds.
Running a scant ninety-two minutes, at least sixty of them consist of people frantically yelling at one another in the hopes the profanity – largely in front of a toddler, who’s always finding and playing with a dildo as the film’s running joke – keeps the viewer’s interest. It’s a mounting desperation that yields few laughs, particularly since the bulk of the situations are taken wholesale from the first film with little to no spin. The movie’s centerpiece – an attempt by Mac and friends to steal the marijuana the girls are planning to sell at a tailgate to keep the house – is sloppily constructed and has no payoff. As for the aforementioned bar-raising, Neighbors 2 offers such glorious sights as a breach-birth baby and morning sickness during sex.
The returning cast runs through the usual paces, with only Zac Efron willing to do any work for laughs. He’s given the best lines and the evolution of his character to a lost soul post-college (“I just want to be valued!”) is at least somewhat interesting. The real shame is the under-use of Rose Byrne, who broke through in the first film. Here she’s relegated to reaction shot duty and given nothing interesting to do. Chloe Grace Moretz is cast against type as a freshmen stoner, but really seems too nice to be caught up in this mess.
All of this unoriginality is wrapped in a fairly tone-deaf package of feminism. It’s true; women have just as much of a right to torment their neighbors as everyone else. In better hands (a whopping five writers are credited; this script was passed around the bong a lot) something could have been done with this angle, but it comes off as insincere when it’s used for bookending purposes and just about every character in the movie is some degree of Awful Human Being. Neighbors 2 is another victim of the studio-mandated sequel, where originality goes to die and all that matters is the opening weekend box office gross. Don’t fall for it.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 92 Minutes
Rating: R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying.
Theatrical Release: May 20, 2016
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Written by: Andrew Jay Cohen & Brendan O’Brien & Nicholas Stoller & Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz