Now that Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) have a second baby on the way, they are ready to make the final move into adulthood: the suburbs. But just as they thought they'd reclaimed the neighbourhood and were safe to sell, they learn that the new occupants next door are a hard-partying, out-of-control sorority, led by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz). Mac and Kelly are forced to team up with their charismatic ex-neighbour and now secret weapon, Teddy (Zac Efron), since the ladies of Kappa Nu aren't going down without a fight.
Seth Rogen attempts to make his college-based humor centered around weed grow up a little more. The first Neighbors found the divide between college students who party all night and the new parents who used to be college students that partied all night. A sequel would appear to be more of the same with another frat moving in next door with another child added into the mix. To my great surprise, this follow-up offers up much more perspective and thoughtful gags than I was expecting. And that’s saying something for a movie that begins with puking during sex.
The story finds parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) expecting their second child. With their house not big enough for two kids, they put their house up on the market to move on up. But their plans to sell hit a major snag when a sorority moves in next door. Led by the rebellious and determined Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), a group of partying girls decide to form their own sorority off campus to not play by sorority law. Through the help of former frat boy Teddy (Zac Efron), they use the former frat house to host parties, smoke weed and cause all manner of college hi-jinks immoral and illegal. And when Shelby’s band of ladies cannot produce rent for the month, they kick their money-raising parties into high gear at a time when Mac and Kelly need them to take it easy for just one month. The new round of pranks and battles for the young and old are off once again.
Gag-wise, Neighbors 2 doesn’t really change its formula. The gags about smoking weed, questionable parenting and long scenes of improv are all present with the same amount of simplicity. There is at least some more follow-through in certain running gags as with reference to a dildo being from a Japanese cartoon for kids. I was even surprised to discover the overused airbag slapstick is used quite sparingly for this sequel. But you’ll also have to suspend your disbelief for such pranks as Mac misinterpreting a phone call to go fly to Sydney, Australia.
The strongest aspect of Neighbors 2 - and even I was shocked by this - is the story. I was impressed with how the script managed to touch on a few more issues and expand on characters a little more. Shelby isn’t just some nasty antagonist meant to be a bother for Mac and Kelly. She has a norm she wants to break, a message she wants to be clear and a sense of freedom she feels is lacking from what should be the best time of your life. There’s also plenty of points made about sexism from more than few perspectives, both comedic and telling. I was not expecting something so intelligent from a movie with bong hits and dildos.
In between this divide is the character of Teddy, desperately trying to find his place in the world after college ends. While all his friends have gone off to pursue real careers and settle down, Teddy remains left behind as the hunk who is suited for little more than retail. He truly feels the sting of realizing how old you are when college kids call you a geezer and everyone you work with is six years younger. This is something real that most college kids don’t grasp until it’s too late. If frat boys take anything meaningful from this comedy, let it be this.
And I felt just a little bit more for Mac and Kelly as parents struggling to make the right choices they have no idea about making. They mess up the specifics of acquiring a home and have their parenting called into question. Granted, they take it to some odd extremes as when Mac admits to leaving his child home alone when he went out to Taco Bell for the munchies. But most parents can recognize the sentiment for those parents struggling with the fear and paranoia of doing the right thing.
Neighbors 2 hits on so many telling characteristics that it’s a shame it stumbles along the way. Every actor is solid except for Chloe Grace Moretz who tries too hard to embody the bad girl capable of innocence. All the jokes are more funny in theory and not so much in their execution. There’s a strong message and commentary behind this story, but is only held back by how long the creatives want to hold on a bong hit or extend a dirty word. I’m frustrated in how I wasn’t able to enjoy this movie more, but I’m at least relieved to discover that the college kids lured into this picture will take a little something more away from it than a fart joke here and some slapstick there.