Synopsis – When their new next-door neighbors turn out to be a sorority even more debaucherous than the fraternity previously living there, Mac and Kelly team with their former enemy, Teddy, to bring the girls down.
My Take – Every once in a while comes a sequel that not only succeeds but also manages to surpass its predecessor. Which is of course a rare thing in the comedy genre, well of course ’22 Jump Street’ is an exception. This comedy directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) reunites the cast of Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, and Dave Franco along with some new cast members in the sequel to the 2014 hit comedy. The film demonstrated Rogen at arguably his best in years along with introducing us to the comedic chops of Zac Efron and Rose Byrne. While the predecessor was astoundingly funny and to this day, stands as one of the best Seth Rogen comedies, the sequel thought is somewhat slightly inferior to the first film, by succeeding at not only delivering loads of laughter and fun but also conveying a smart conservative message about sexism. The story follows Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) two years later, who are fixing to have their second child and decide they must move somewhere nicer. But before they can sell their house, they put on an escrow for thirty days and must keep the house nice and maintained by the end of the period. Meanwhile, college freshman Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) rushes to join a sorority but is disappointed by the rule outlawing sororities from partying. Deeming it as sexist, Shelby and her two new friends Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) decide to raise their own sorority. They rent out a house which just so happens to be the same house next door of Mac and Kelly where the previous Delta Psi fraternity resided. Meanwhile Teddy (Zac Efron) struggling to adjust to life after college. Not only does he find that his abs have become no longer relevant at Abercrombie & Fitch where he works, his best friend and roommate Pete (Dave Franco) wants him to move out after coming out of the closet by announcing that he is about to get married to a man.
Teddy’s still sore about the previous confrontation with Mac and Kelly – not least because it left him with a criminal record that has made it difficult for him to find employment – and finds purpose assisting Shelby work out the sums to pay rent by showing them how to run a party to also attract more like-minded females to join Kappa Nu. It is also Teddy who coaxes Shelby not to acquiesce to a 30-day truce which Mac proposes. And so just like that, the battle lines have been drawn between the two houses yet again, though Teddy switch sides halfway when the Kappa Nus hold an executive meeting over Instant Messaging (IM) and oust him for being “an old person”. And this proves to be an even tougher battle than their dispute with the previous fraternity. The first film was a pleasant surprise. It was a prototypical Seth Rogen film with gut punching laughs but ultimately a forgettable story. As with many comedy sequels it has an almost identical premise to the original, simply swapping boys for girls in this case. In the past, films have been criticized for this (‘Home Alone’ and ‘The Hangover’ come to mind) but I see no problem with it. It’s the characters we come to see (as opposed to action/thrillers where we are there for the story) and as long as things get resolved in a unique way to the original, I know I’m still going to be having a good time. And I certainly did in this case. I can’t think of a single dud scene where the humor didn’t work. Just as amusing as these high-farce set pieces are the high-profile cameos by Lisa Kudrow and Kelsey Grammer, the former as a hard-assed college principal whom Kelly makes the mistake of trying to bribe with a couple of dollars and coins and the latter as Shelby’s dad whom Mac and Kelly call in to rein in his ‘wayward’ daughter. The reason this one turns out more engaging than the sum of these parts is credit to the attention and detail that director Stoller pays to each one of the key characters – namely, Mac, Kelly, Teddy and Shelby – none of whom he conveniently fits into the mould of hero or villain. In fact, you’ll be pleasantly amazed at how your sympathies shift during the course of the movie, so much so that you’d wish that they could all just put aside their differences and get along with each other at the end of the day. Somewhat surprisingly, the gags you probably already know about – including that of the Kappa Nus dressed in bikinis throwing themselves on top of Mac’s car – are as brief as they have been glimpsed in the trailers. Indeed, there is more up the sleeves of returning director Nicholas Stoller and his team of screenwriters (including original scribes Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, and Rogen and Evan Goldberg) than you would expect, ranging from a marijuana heist at a tailgate party to an iPhone sabotage that leads to a series of misplaced texts and false alarms.
But beneath all the laugh out loud moments, the film has an underlining with a more relatable and grounded story. On the surface, the very establishment of Kappa Nu seems like a modern-day feminist movement, its genesis rooted in the rebellion against the archaic rules of the Greek system that persist till today. And yet, along the way, Stoller and his eminently male screen writing team call out the hypocritical pitfalls of such empowerments, especially as Kudrow‘s college dean points out to Mac that ‘there is no such thing as reverse sexism’. The subtext here is a little less straightforward, but those looking for a more forthright comedy of low-brow pleasure will find much to laugh and holler at in this authentically ribald sequel. Oh yes, fans of the original will be glad to know that even though the gender is different, the gross-out sensibilities remain intact! There’s something about Seth Rogen‘s comedy that always sits with me well. I honestly don’t remember the last film he did that I flat out didn’t like. Heck the guy even proved his dramatic chops with a brilliant turn in Steve Jobs last year. This film is right up his alley as it gives him an opportunity to play with all of his over-the-top humor he’s a force with, while playing a relatively grounded character with real issues; a husband and a soon to be father to two daughters. The adorable Rose Byrne gets to showcase her talents here yet again and she is damn funny! I wonder why she doesn’t pick up more comedy films. Her chemistry with Rogen is loveable. Zac Efron is awesome yet again! Efron seems more comfortable this time around, by sinking his teeth into a role tailor made for him. The first film was the launching pad for Zac Efron as a comedic performer, the intention seems to be to do something similar for Chloe Grace Moretz. She’s a good actress and she’s occasionally funny here but instead of being more of a solo showcase, most of the laughs she generates are playing off Kiersey and Beanie, who are more funnier. Carla Gallo and Ike Barinholtz continue their funny escapades from the earlier film. Dave Franco, Lisa Kudrow, Kelsey Grammer and Selena Gomez are likable in cameos. On the whole, ‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’ is a raunchy and hilarious sequel with better character work and well-placed ideas amidst plenty of insane moments.
Directed – Nicholas Stoller
Rated – R
Run Time – 92 minutes