The original Neighbors was something I happened to come upon while attending college at Pennsylvania State University. They were having a free advanced screening in downtown State College, and just about everyone at the school was stoked to see it. The line for the showing extended well past the first few blocks from the theater, and I was lucky to have snagged a seat before the theater filled to the brink. When the film ended and the credits began to roll, Neighbors certainly wouldn’t have been classified as a laugh-a-minute experience in my book; but my fellow students in the theater enjoyed it and I got a few good laughs out of the screening. In the end, I was definitely happy to have seen it, considering Neighbors a good comedy for what it was. When a sequel was announced in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, it caught my interest to see how it would turn out compared to the original. Now that I’ve seen the follow-up, I can’t help but wish to pop in the first movie and contemplate everything missing that would have made Sorority Rising better.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising takes place shortly after the events of the original. With parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) stuck in a 30 day escrow while trying to sell their house, a newly formed sorority lead by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz,) Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) moves in next door. Seeing that the party-goers have no concern for their plight in the escrow, Mac and Kelly have no choice but to resort to an all-out bad neighbors war in a bid to kick them out of the house. However, with the sorority girls playing tougher than expected, the couple turn to an old antagonist of their’s; former enemy and Delta Psi Beta leader, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron.)
As far as unnecessary comedic sequels go, Sorority Rising definitely has its moments. While Chloe Grace Moretz doesn’t necessarily command the screen like she’s more than capable of, it’s when she’s alongside fellow actresses Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein that Moretz has some of the best jokes land. In turn, their adventure together actually brings up one of the film’s biggest highlights, it delves into the misogyny experienced at college parties. I really appreciated seeing a comedic piece having the heart to delve into some of the darker issues nobody likes to talk about, and while it didn’t offer much of a solution to said problem, it still gets points for addressing the issue and letting college women know they shouldn’t have to tolerate the misogyny.
In addition, Sorority Rising doesn’t just decide to plop the same people from the original without changing much from their previous lives, they’ve actually progressed/regressed like real people since the events of the original Neighbors. Dave Franco’s character is getting married, former Delta Psi Beta brothers have moved on to bigger and better jobs in their lives, even Mac and Kelly’s best friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) are about to raise a family of their own. However, what stands out the most is Teddy’s regression since the disbandment of the Delta Psi Beta brothers. His lack of direction in his life is what brings him into the events of sometimes siding with the sorority sisters, while sometimes siding with his former enemies Mac and Kelly. It gives some room for Zac Efron to explore Teddy’s character past the comedic aspects, and it gives the feature a little more backbone than I initially expected.
Sadly, all those positives would be a lot more grounded if there was a better comedic script to back them all up. Sure, the movie does have a few decent jokes here and there, but the majority of them are so middle-of-the-road, uninspired sequel humor that it ends up being largely unmemorable. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get one good laugh out of the picture, but the rest of the run time gave me only a few chuckles and nothing more substantial than that. Even the fellow movie-goers in my theater rarely laughed, especially compared to the free screening of the original Neighbors I went to, where some people were laughing hysterically from beginning to end.
What’s worse is that for a sequel that tries to root itself as much in the original as possible, Sorority Rising is missing many of the elements that made the first one so much fun for viewers. Gone is Dave Franco’s bubbly personality, as he’s rarely in the feature at all. Lacking is the punch in Jimmy and Paula’s scenes, as they serve little more of a purpose then “well they were in the first one, so they have to be in this one too.” Worst of all, however, is that the dynamic between Efron and Rogen is almost completely absent from this piece. The actors do have a brief garage scene together where they have a little fun with their roles, but it remains the only time where the characters had the dynamic featured in the first movie, and it’s so short-lived at a minute or two long that it only helps remind you how much of that chemistry was missing in the other 90 minutes.
To make a long story short, if you liked what the first Neighbors had to offer, there’s probably enough here for you to see it with some friends on a late night. However, don’t go in expecting a worthwhile, laugh-out-loud experience that justified this sequel as a necessary one. Its aims at college misogyny are valiant and a couple of the jokes land decently enough, but Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising misses its target in trying to capture what made the first film such a success with its audience. Maybe this is a party you’ll still want to attend, just don’t feel the need to stay the night through.