Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has all the hallmarks of a comedy sequel. It basically repeats the same plot as the original and tries to outdo previous gags. Mac (Seth Rogen; Pineapple Express) and Kelly (Rose Byrne; The Meddler) are selling their house and have finally found a buyer. The catch is that they are in escrow for 30 days, meaning that the buyers can check in at any time and withdraw their offer if they see something they don’t like. This isn’t an issue until the previously abandoned frat house next door is rented by a group of college girls led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz; Kick-Ass). The young women are fed up with official sororities and the debasement of frat parties and want to break out on their own. Teddy (Zac Efron; High School Musical), the frat leader from the first film, joins forces with Mac and Kelly to get girls kicked out of the house before they scare off potential buyers.
Despite the familiar setup, the film uses the gender swap to approach the story from a different angle. They do an incredible job of skewering the Greek system. Sororities are shown as superficial with cult-like rules and rituals and fraternities are portrayed as cesspools of objectification. At their first frat party, Shelby is horrified to learn that the party is just a way to get them drunk enough to have sex. The film is able to evaluate this with humor. There are signs that read “NO MEANS YES” and frat guys shouting “You wanna go upstairs?” to anyone that will listen that are hilarious but also resonate because they are based in reality. These are only slight exaggerations of things that happen at real fraternity parties and the film is able to balance its comedy with criticism.
Many of the jokes rely too heavily on improv. This has become somewhat of an epidemic in modern comedies, particularly those starring Seth Rogen. Instead of using written and rehearsed lines, the director allows actors to ad lib several takes and compiles the results in post-production. This method can sometimes lead to spontaneous gems, but relying on it misses the essence of good comedy: timing. There are several scenes where the cast is clearly making up their lines as they go along, hoping that overacting will lead to some laughs. However, this typically only leads to failed jokes and in some cases racially charged remarks that don’t have a place in the film. The movie is at its funniest during the elaborate, planned, set pieces. These sequences allow the likeable cast to show off their comedic talents and have the required timing necessary to succeed.
It would have been easy for this film to fall into The Hangover 2 category. A by-the-numbers sequel relying on the success of the original, rather than its own quality, for box office revenues. The humor does not live up to the first film but even as many jokes miss their mark, it’s difficult to dislike the movie. The cast is eminently charismatic and even their failed attempts don’t become irritating. Instead, the surprisingly well realized feminist theme adds depth unusual to the genre and is able to eclipse the uneven humor and elevate the film.