Directed by Nicholas Stoller.
2016. Rated R, 92 minutes.
Chloe Grace Moretz
Kelly (Byrne) and Mac (Rogen) are desperately trying to sell their house since they've already bought another home to move into. They have found a buyer, but the house is then put into escrow, meaning the potential new owners have thirty days before the sale becomes final and can nix the deal at any point during this time, for any reason, including the possibility of having rowdy neighbors. Kelly and Mac don't like the situation, but what could go wrong in thirty days? The answer to that question is Shelby (Moretz), Beth (Clemons), and Nora (Feldstein). They are college freshmen trying to get into the Phi Lambda sorority. Unfortunately for them, they learn two upsetting things: 1) sororities can only attend frat parties, not throw their own, and 2) frat parties are hyper-sexist affairs filled with drunken sexual predators. The three girls get together and decide to form their own sorority, Kappa Nu, that can throw their own parties. Of course, this requires having a sorority house. Of course, they move into the house right next door to Kelly and Mac and begin partying every night. To add insult to Kelly and Mac's injury, the girls are being helped by Teddy (Efron), one of the neighbors they had to deal with in the first film. What is essentially a turf war ensues.
In sharp contrast to its predecessor, Neighbors 2 positions itself as a girl-power flick with the sorority girls rebelling against sexist policies and traditions. Though pig-headed and immature, these are strong young women refusing to bow down to societal norms and forging their own way. All of that is okay because they are college kids, pig-headed and immature are to be expected. Besides, it wouldn't be much of a movie if they weren't. The pro-girl edict is also apparent in the two marriages that get the most screen time. In the relationship of Kelly and Mac, as well as that of Jimmy (Barinholtz) and Paula (Gallo), it's clear the ladies wear the proverbial pants in the house. However, this is not depicted in a domineering way, but more like what we see in many modern-day marriages. The men aren't emasculated, but often acquiesce to their wives on big decisions. Occasionally, the women have to encourage their hubbies to "man up." It's a well-done, highly entertaining aspect of the film.
I realize I've chosen to start this review as if this were some deep exploration of feminism. It does make some interesting commentary, but it's hardly that. This is a raunchy, gross-out comedy through and through. It mines the topic of feminism for humor in a way that manages to be both smart and funny in its vulgarity. This extends to how the film treats the age gap ever-present in the franchise. At its simplest, it's just the girls referring to Kelly and Mac as "the old people." Slightly more complex are the differences in the outlook on life. There is a stark contrast between college kids, just starting out on their own path, and a married couple with kids. The film portrays this quite well. As a nice touch, we get Efron's character as that lost soul in between the two extremes. He's classic stuck-in-a-rut guy and gives a nice performance to that end. The performances, in general, are very good. Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen rekindle their easy chemistry from the first film. Chloe Grace Moretz is solid as the de facto leader of the sorority girls. To be honest, though, her cohorts pale in comparison to the personalities on display by the frat boys in the original. They are all too interchangeable, with only one defining trait for each: the chubby one, the black one, etc. This is the consequence of stuffing the movie with so many characters and insisting on trying to get each one their own funny moment. It works for some, but not for others. Luckily, the good outweighs the bad and we get a number of hilarious gags.
As many laughs as it contains, there are parts of the movie that fall flat. The biggest dud is the shoehorning of a gay marriage into the film. Dave Franco reprises his role as Pete from the first film. However, we shortly discover he's gay as his boyfriend Darren (Early) proposes to him. The problem is by taking a previously heterosexual character and turning him gay, it reeks of tokenism. The writers are clearly just jumping on the bandwagon of including gay characters because that's the in thing to do. This serves no purpose other than saying "Hey look, we're gay friendly." It's especially unneeded given all the much better done homoerotic humor between Mac and Teddy. Also unneeded are the dual subplots of Kelly and Paula being pregnant. They have essentially nothing to do with the plot and only provide the movie's grossest moments. That would be fine, except they are just disgusting and not at all funny. Again, the whole parenthood thing is handled a lot better by another aspect of the movie. In this case, that's Kelly and Mac's interactions with the toddler they already have.
Drawbacks notwithstanding, Neighbors 2 is a pretty funny film. Admittedly, much of the humor is recycled from its predecessor. In all honesty, those are the jokes that fall the flattest. Well, they fall flat unless airbags are involved, physically or just verbally, then it's just downright hilarious. Also like the first movie, it's brand of comedy won't be for everybody. I enjoyed it, but understand there will be lots of people who only cringe at the jokes. I cringed a few times, myself. Give it extra points for being a girl-power flick that manages not to undermine the women its empowering in order to reach its conclusion. It falls into that middle ground of sequels. Though it's not as good, if you like the original, you'll probably like this one.