Comedy sequels are rarely anything worth celebrating. It always strikes me as odd when a comedy becomes successful enough to warrant making a second installment. Funny films are rarely written as franchise-launching vehicles. More often than not they are self-contained stories with every plot point wrapped up by the final credits. And yet, Hollywood studios don’t believe in the idea of singular success, which means audiences have to endure lazy trips back to the well like “Caddyshack 2,” “Horrible Bosses 2,” “European Vacation,” “Ghostbusters 2,” “Meet the Fockers,” “Hangover 2,” “Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps,” “Son of the Mask,” “Teen Wolf Too,” “Evan Almighty,” “Blues Brothers 2000,” “Weekend at Bernie’s 2,” and “Dumb and Dumber To” … or “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.” The point is: comedy sequels suck.
The reason comedy sequels often suck is because of how derivative they are. There’s almost no effort to create a new scenario for the characters or an original comic premise. Instead, the plot for the original is copied and pasted into a new final draft and everyone lazily goes through the paces all over again. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it: almost every movie I mentioned above takes the plot of the original film and does the slightest of variations with almost no attempt at originality. Comedy sequels are the cinematic equivalent of telling a good joke twice. No matter how good the joke is, it’s never going to have the same punch the second time heard.
“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is something of an anomaly; a comedy sequel actually better than the original. This is odd, because the film’s story is just as much a lazy copy/paste as all the other aforementioned atrocities. Once again our perpetual man-children couple of Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are forced to deal with a bunch of hard-partying college students next door. But this time, instead of a bunch of some oversexed bruhs, they’re battling a bunch of hard-partying ladies trying to start their own sorority. Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) is looking for some social opportunities in college but finds the traditional sororities to be less than empowering. After some guidance from Teddy (Zac Efron), they settle into his old fraternity house and start the female-friendly Kappa Nu.
This is trouble for Mac and Kelly who are 30 days away from selling their house. If their buyers discover the property next door has been transformed into a house of ill repute, then the sale is off, leaving them in a financial free fall. The first “Neighbors” was a comedy built on a foundation of dick and fart jokes. It was a marginally amusing affair that was about as memorable as a night of binge drinking followed by a full-frontal lobotomy. Somehow “Neighbors 2” manages to take the same basic premise and with a little tinkering, turn it into a significantly better film than the first. Maybe it’s because we get into the basic premise right away. There’s no need to pointless exposition. Everything moves at a quicker pace, and the addition of the sorority adds a third layer to the dynamic.
What I like about “Neighbors 2” is that every character is portrayed with a degree of fairness. No one is really the enemy here. It’s just a bunch of people of varying ages trying to figure out what the next stage of their life looks like. It’s a film that somewhat realistically portrays modern catharsis of the less-than-mature middle aged; the perpetually drifting 20-somethings; and young women trying to escape the trappings of the highly sexualized sorority experience.
All kudos deservedly go to an extremely talented cast of actors. Seth Rogen has somehow evolved from young stoner to suburban stoner- family man and become a portrait of modern fatherhood. Zac Efron manages to bring some sympathy to the role of a ridiculously handsome guy uncertain about his future. It’s odd when a comedy film featuring so many scenes of ludicrously staged gross-out gags, also manages to feel realistic in its portrayal of all different age groups.
Audiences feel bad for Mac and Kelly as they begin to realize they might not be the world’s best parents. They empathize with Teddy, who’s watching his friends grow up and take new steps, while he struggles to be appreciated. Shelby and her friends’ struggle to break free of suffocating gender roles can be appreciated. That’s an impressive feat in any movie, but being able to drop some mad sociological science in between belly laughs is kind of craze-mazing. “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is a lot fun and a pleasant surprise.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloë Grace Moretz
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
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