The 2014 film “Neighbors” cost $18 million to make, and brought in $270 million worldwide. That is a spectacular, “Saw”-like return on investment, so it makes sense that the studio would be interested in making a sequel. There’s just one teensy little problem: there was nothing about “Neighbors” that lends itself well to a sequel. (Also, no one appears to have been asking for a sequel, but that is apparently beside the point.) It’s a film where the main characters each win a battle, but lose what’s left of their dignity. No bonds are forged, and the attempt at a happy ending drips with sadness. One of the first film’s good points was that they didn’t seem concerned about tomorrow because they were having too much fun today. Then tomorrow came, panic settled in, and for God knows what reason, the decision to not make a second film wasn’t considered. This is a mistake.
“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” isn’t even remotely tethered to reality. If this took place in the real world, at least two people would be dead, and one would be in traction. It requires “Horrible Bosses 2” logic in order to work, which dictates that if you’ve been badly burned in your personal or professional life, you will learn absolutely nothing from the experience, and make the same mistake again. “Horrible Bosses 2,” for the record, was another movie that no one asked for, and it made half as much as the original. Universal should prepare themselves for a similar dropoff.
Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, respectively), now with a 2-year-old and another baby on the way, have decided to sell their house and move to the suburbs. They have a family who wants to buy, and the house is put in escrow. The Radners do not understand that the sale is not final until their realtor spells it out for them for the sake of the plot (and the audience); the buyers have 30 days to back out of the deal for any reason. When Mac and Kelly see that a group of rebel girls wants to start a new party-friendly sorority in the abandoned house next door (the house previously owned by the Delta Psi Betas from the first film), they ask the girls to tone it down until the sale goes through. The girls are already annoyed that sororities are not allowed to throw parties, but fraternities are. They are not receptive to this request.
Meanwhile, Teddy (Zac Efron) is watching all of his frat bros move on with their lives, while his life is in a holding pattern thanks to the criminal record he obtained in the first film. It gets worse when he is asked to move out of his apartment, and out of desperation – and a need to feel appreciated – he strikes a deal with the new sorority to manage their finances, thus filling two holes in his life: the lack of respect, and it enables him to once again stick it to Mac and Kelly. Eventually, though, the girls turn on Teddy, so he switches teams.
Watching this movie was a similar experience to watching an episode of “SpongeBob Squarepants.” The whole time I’m thinking, “You’re all idiots, and you deserve exactly what’s coming to you.” Mac and Kelly are the adults here, but even after the events of the first movie, they haven’t grown up at all. Teddy is just dense, so valuable lessons are going to come harder for him. The new sorority girls (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, and Jonah Hill’s sister Beanie Feldstein) are 18 and the first ones to tell you that they’re idiots, which makes it easier to forgive them, but they’re idiots just the same.
The rest of the idiocy lies in the script. One scheme involves Mac and Kelly leaving their phones in places where their foes can compromise them. If you don’t trust your neighbors, would you ever leave your phone unattended? (That plot piece also involves Kelly, a protective mother bear, not hearing someone sneak behind her on their hardwood floors while she’s playing with her daughter. Right.) Teddy’s revenge plan is middle school depth at best, and the happy ending makes absolutely zero sense.
I felt sorry for Rose Byrne. She’s so much better than this – she stole the first film from Rogen and Efron – but she is slumming at a level that she has never slummed before (the opening scene, shudder). I hope she bought a country house with the money she made from doing this movie. Also, the corporate synergy at work here, repeatedly shoehorning another Universal property into this film, was galling.
It’s okay to make a good movie, and not make a sequel to it. People have talked about doing a “Breakfast Club” sequel for decades, but even John Hughes, who wrote some bad scripts towards the end of his life, knew that that was a terrible idea. “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” simply should not exist, and the world is a slightly sadder place because it does.(1.5 / 5)
This review originally ran May 19, 2016 on Bullz-Eye.com