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'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising' Film Review: Crass conflict with a social conscience

May 20, 2016Ben MK

At first glance, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising reads like a typical Hollywood cash-in, as its premise sounds nearly identical to its 2014 predecessor. This, however, is one of those rare comedy sequels that actually surpasses the original film, delivering not only a laugh-out-loud experience with a surprising amount of heart, but also smartly touching on a few socially relevant topics along the way.

Picking up a couple of years after suburban couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) defeated their neighbors from Hell, the raucous Delta Psi Beta fraternity led by best bros Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and Pete Regazolli (Dave Franco), Neighbors 2 finds Mac and Kelly contending with a new next-door nightmare. This time, it's Kappa Nu, a party-centric sorority formed by college freshman Shelby (Chloƫ Grace Moretz) specifically to counteract the sexist notions and attitudes that permeate the existing sorority/fraternity system.

To make matters worse, Mac and Kelly have just bought a new home in anticipation of a new addition to their family, and the buyers of their current house have put a 30-day escrow on the property, meaning that they can back out of the deal anytime within the month. To make matters even more worse, Shelby and her friends and co-founders Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) have recruited former party-animal Teddy to mentor them, and to help them make Kappa Nu the hardest-partying, most weed-smoking-est house on the block.

What follows bears an undeniable similarity to the structure of the first movie, as Mac and Kelly first try reasoning with Shelby and company, and then enter into all-out war with them, infesting the Kappa Nu house with bed bugs while the girls throw used tampons at their windows. The wild card here, though, is Teddy, who only decides to help Kappa Nu out of his need to feel valued. When the girls dump him because he's too old to understand their woes, however, Teddy joins Team Radner, where he puts his finely-honed pecs and chiseled abs to good use.

There's more that can be said about the storyline, but part of the film's fun is discovering where director Nicholas Stoller and his co-writers, Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, have taken these characters since the first movie. Suffice to say, the result is pleasantly progressive. In other words, Neighbors 2 doesn't revert its returning characters to their old ways simply for the sake of comedy. And even the new characters are given motivations that feel genuine, as opposed to being used merely as cogs in the machinations of the script.

Even more impressive is just how side-splittingly funny the movie is. In fact, it may well be the most hilarious, most culturally relevant comedy of the year, using its jokes and plot points to raise audience awareness about everything from gender equality and female empowerment, to racial profiling and police brutality, and even gay marriage. Of course, the themes of parenthood and growing up that ran through the first movie are still here as well, but they've also undergone something of a minor evolution that feels perfectly in-step with the rest of the story.

Make no mistake, Neighbors 2 still bears all the hallmarks of a Seth Rogen comedy, meaning that audiences won't be left wanting for crude, sometimes random, jokes about sex, weed and Judaism. Still, it's all handled in the most lovable way possible, believe it or not, which only adds to the film's charm. Coupled with strong performances across the board from every actor in the cast — especially Efron — and what we have is the kind of sequel that all sequels should aspire to, one that takes the concept of the original and improves on it in every way imaginable.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising releases May 20th, 2016 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 32 Mins.

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