Girls, as parents may argue, are twice as much trouble as boys. So a movie about partying sorority sisters would have to offer double the trouble of one about frat bros. Well that’s the logic behind Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. It has to be twice as raunchy, exponentially more transgressive, crossing lines you just don’t see comedies cross, right? The problem is, it doesn’t. It’s got just about enough laughs, but there’s so much more that the script by committee wants to shoehorn in, like female empowerment, bad parenting passed off as “doing our best” just like our parents, gay marriage and the incredibly sexist college Greek system, a relic of the Animal House era that remains as rapey as ever.
Neighbors 2 is a 92 minute comedy that plays like a two hour drag, a real check-your-cell-messages endurance test. Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) have a toddler who loves playing with Kelly’s vibrator. Somehow, she’s not gotten her hand on Mac’s vast bong collection. Because whatever else these two have done, growing up themselves is not something they’ve mastered since the first installment of Neighbors. But Kelly’s pregnant again, or as Mac might put it, they’ve got a “little Jew in the oven.” Ahem. They find out when she vomits on him in the middle of intercourse.
They have a big house, but it’s time to get a bigger one. But things are afoot with the big, eight-bedroom monstrosity next door. Shelby, Beth and Nora (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons of Dope and Beanie Feldstein) meet each other as college misfits, unpopular girls turned off by the sexual salesmanship and second-class citizenship that sororities pass off as “sisterhood” (Selena Gomez leads the most popular one). So the stoner Shelby (Moretz) and her pals resolve to start their own sorority, where young women have the same rights as frat bros. In other words, they can throw parties. Because sororities aren’t allowed to do that. Only fraternities. As Selena’s character snaps in the movie, “Google it.”
The “start our own” thing idea was stolen from an Amanda Bynes comedy, Sydney White. But never mind. Five credited writers can’t be expected to be original. The stupid-high rent of the house forces the girls to enlist help. That’s where Teddy (Zac Efron), frat bro stuck in “quarter life crisis” and a Foot Locker job ever since college, comes in. He’ll mentor them. And have his revenge on Mac and Kelly. He has a criminal record, thanks to them. He will “facilitate the act of partying in the house,” help them round up recruits who will pay the rent. “I just want to feel valued,” he says.
The “old people” are trying to sell their house. They’ve cluelessly nodded their way through the real-estate contract that put their house in escrow. They need the new owners not to see college coed chaos for 30 days. And the girls, just as childish, won’t cooperate. So they call the girls’ parents (Kelsey Grammer) to complain, and “It’s on.” The “war” has a couple of funny battles — one involving a riot and chase as Mac and Kelly and their friends trying to steal the pot the girls want to sell to cover expenses.
Teddy, trying to find himself after his best-frat-bro (James Franco) gets engaged to another bro, switches sides. Hilarious single-scene cameos score, with Grammer, Lisa Kudrow (snarky college chancellor) and Hannibal Buress (campus cop) landing laughs. The singing guy-to-guy engagement moment is adorable. A sorority hazing ritual has the new girls dressed as (Universal’s) Minions, doing all the house chores. Cute. Efron takes his shirt off, repeatedly, dances a striptease. Use it while it lasts, brother. The same goes for Rogen, whose plump, profane stoner act is wearing thin.
But the many random amusing moments are broken up by the girls’ questioning their values and the parents next door coming to grips with how bad they are at parenting. You just know “teachable moments” are on the way. Director Nicholas Stoller puts WAY too much effort in “showing both sides,” and the girls aren’t remotely as funny or interesting as the alleged adults. But maybe this movie will do some good. If Animal House brought generations back into the fraternities, “little sisters” of fraternities and sororities of America, maybe “Neighbors” will awaken the parents who write the checks to exactly the sort of warped system and even more warped values system (albeit, sometimes hilariously so) going Greek perpetuates. Judging from such parents as Mac and Kelly, though, it’ll never happen.