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Heaven help the next generation of American women if Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising represents what Hollywood thinks of them. In Nicholas Stoller’s sequel to his 2014 Neighbors, even the with-it girls — the ones too freethinking to join a cookie-cutter sorority — are so dumb they make the bros in the first movie look like elder statesmen. Smarts aren’t the point, of course — the reason these freshmen strike out on their own, renting a house next to Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, is that they hunger for their very own place to get stoned. But in their awkward attempt to shoehorn these kids into the first pic’s formula, Stoller and his writing collaborators care far less about creating believable characters than getting to the next laugh.
Those yuks are plentiful enough to ensure a reasonable box-office return. But viewers prone to worries about Hollywood’s treatment of women — a fair chunk of whom are young students this film wants to attract — may be laughing less loudly than those around them.
Release date: May 20, 2016
In an uncharacteristically flat performance, Chloe Grace Moretz plays Shelby, who doesn’t fit the Barbie mold at the sorority she’s rushing, Phi Lambda. She sticks with rush even after learning that sororities can’t host their own parties, and must go to frat houses to get wasted. But at her first such party, the rapey vibe is so intense (is a “No Means Yes!” banner perhaps too subtle a clue?) she and new friends Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) decide to start their own club.
The search for a party house to call their own leads them to the vacant home next door to Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen & Byrne), who successfully ran Zac Efron & co. out in the last picture. But how will three girls pay the $5,000 rent? Enter an unlikely mentor: Efron’s Teddy Sanders, whose bros have done an astonishing amount of growing up in the two years since we saw them (and, in the case of Dave Franco’s Pete, come out of the closet), leaving him the only one without a real career. In one quick scene, the girls go from telling Teddy he’s sexist to admitting they’re clueless about every real-world suggestion he is making to enlisting him as the man who will show them how to get money from other girls to rent the house. Rarely if ever in this script is an accusation of sexism not either made to look dumb or used as a joke.
Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne), getting set to have a second child, have just managed to sell this house and buy a bigger one in the suburbs. But this one is in escrow, with the new owners having 30 days to make random inspections and back out for any reason. Reasons like, say, a yard full of beer cans next door.
Teddy, looking to get even with his old neighbors (let’s forget they actually patched things up after the last movie’s parents-vs-fratboys warfare), sets out to host parties so outlandish no prospective homebuyer could ignore them. But as they come into their own as party animals, the girls give Teddy the heave-ho, saying the most hurtful thing a low-IQ stud like this could hear: “You’re not like us, dude, you’re an old person.” Teddy rebounds by joining Mac and Kelly in their attempt to shut the sorority down.
The ensuing back-and-forth assault is often funny, but doesn’t work nearly as well as the first film’s action. A set piece involving a massive weed heist at a tailgate party provides weird madcap action, and yes, it offers the frequently shirtless Efron the opportunity to strip-tease for panting college girls. But another involving iPhone sabotage (texting being one of the few things Shelby’s crew is good at, evidently) is incoherent, depending on nonsensical responses from the adult victims.
The movie’s neo-sorority villains are not the only brain-deprived characters onscreen — Teddy doesn’t understand boiling water; Kelly’s best friend is 8.97 months pregnant and doesn’t know how labor works. But especially in a sequel that deprives its adult female lead of the comic opportunities she did so well with in the first film, their depiction here feels like a provocation to any woman or man in the crowd who yearns for more sentient female characters in pop culture. But this is only a movie, right? It’s not like it has any effect on how real men and women view each other in the world. Tell that to the Women’s Studies professors these students will meet if they ever put down the bong long enough to take school seriously.
Production companies: Point Grey Pictures, Good Universe
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Dave Franco, Lisa Kudrow, Selena Gomez
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Screenwriters: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Producers: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver
Executive producers: Joseph Drake, Ted Gidlow, Nathan Kahane, John Powers Middleton, Brendan O’Brien
Director of photography: Brandon Trost
Production designer: Theresa Guleserian
Costume designer: Leesa Evans
Editors: Zene Baker, Peck Prior, Michael A. Webber
Composer: Michael Andrews
Casting director: Francine Maisler
Rated R, 92 minutes
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