Neighbors 2 forecloses on itself

When the credits for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising started to roll, I noticed that when it got to the “Screenplay by” credit there were about five names underneath. “That explains a lot,” I thought to myself.

This is because the sequel to the shockingly successful 2014 comedy feels like it was the victim of a game of tug of war. On one side were a group of people trying to make something timely, and on the other side were those working for a studio that pointed to the first film and said “that, do that again.” I don’t know who fought for which team, but there were clearly too many people on one end trying to make this movie as safe and vanilla for us poor ol’ dumb-dumbs watching it as possible.

As a result, I don’t know what the hell I watched. The story is about a loving couple (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) who are trying to sell their house after winning a turf war with a frat two years ago, who are now going to have to do it all again, in the exact same manner except against a newly formed sorority. Except this time it tries to be timely because the girls of this sorority (Chloe Grace Moretz, Beanie Feldstien and Kiersey Clemons) started it as a form of liberation from other sororities that aren’t allowed to party, and against the frats whose parties are about as subtle with their intentions towards the girls as a beat-up van that says “free candy” on the side.

Now this is where the two movies divide and become sworn enemies of each other, hell bent on winning the soul of the film. On the side of the progressive college flick are the girls calling people sexist for doing things or saying things a certain way—as they rightly should in many, many instances—but we must remember this is comedy. This was not something the filmmakers were probably very confused about. The scenes we were supposed to laugh at and mock in the previous film—like douchebag frat boys acting a fool with no common sense—are now seen through a different lens.

The girls are exposed to the very rapey vibes the frats boys give off, and even though we are still supposed to be laughing at the boys’ idiocy, the actual horror and dread of these very real situations set in and it becomes a horror movie instead. There is nothing more dangerous that a sex-crazed frat boy surrounded by other sex-crazed frat boys. When the few (and I emphasize the word few) in the audience laughed at a series of signs pointing to the upstairs of the frat house saying “Stairway to Heaven” I wanted to shout, “Why are you laughing? This is a serious issue! Let’s form a march and make buttons!”

Now it seemed like these scenes ended up being more serious than funny because some people writing the movie really wanted the subject touched on, but were so rushed to get back to the bland humor that they couldn’t work out how to be funny and serious. Which is a shame, because the girls in this film are so damn funny and likable that I couldn’t stop wondering why this had to be a sequel. Why couldn’t a female ensemble film set in college about the actual problems in college aside from failing a test or why stuffy adults are trying to ruin all the fun (answer: because it’s a school you fool!)

But as soon as we get a taste of what movie this could’ve been, we then cut away to go see the married couple as they scheme and hatch plans to fight back against the girls so they can sell their house. Now, it seems pointless to discuss this part of the movie, so I won’t. The writers tried so hard to hit all the same beats of the original plot that they completely missed the parts that were funny. We get all the same plot points—seemingly perfect life, new threat, prank war, climax at a massive party—but none of the yucks. In fact, they seem so desperate to be funny they go way overboard into disgusting or clichéd with pranks like “throw bloody tampons at the window and let the baby play with one!” and “airbags…again!” so much that you won’t be surprised if no one else in the theater is laughing (no one was in mine). We saw this exact same shtick two years ago. I felt compelled to go up to the projection booth to make sure there wasn’t a dude just using his phone to project the original onto the screen.

Sure, everyone in the flick is game, including the insatiable eye-candy that is Zac Efron, who probably could’ve been taken out had the “lustful female” demographic not been key to this movie getting made. But of course it’s easy for the returning cast when they’ve already done it all before. Who I admire are the girls themselves. They embrace every scene they can get, trying to wring out all the laughs, even if they are doing the same thing the boys were doing in the original movie (i.e. smoking weed, end of list). But I wanted to see so much of this idea unfold. How amazing would a raunchy R-rated female ensemble comedy be in the college scene that was truly targeting the issues gently scraped over in this one? Sadly, movies can’t get made today unless there’s a colon in their title. So in turn, we could’ve gotten a progressive college comedy the likes of which we’ve never seen, but instead are disgraced with an unnecessary, unfunny comedy that tries to be progressive for women, but ends up being regressive for modern comedy in general—all because Seth Rogen needed something else to do. I still love the man but, dude, go on holiday, come back, and make the movie this one was born to be and I will forget this ever happened. Cool? Cool.

Grade: C-

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