Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising — Sisters are doing it for themselves

Its feminist manifesto might be somewhat half-baked, but Seth Rogen and gang return with a romp that's funnier than the original.

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On paper, there was no obvious reason to make a sequel to Neighbors, director Nick Stoller's raunchy 2014 comedy about a thirtysomething couple and their battle with the obnoxious fraternity boys next door. We learned probably all we needed to know about Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) and the brothers of Delta Psi Beta, led by Dave Franco's Pete and Zac Efron's Teddy. Their story left few loose ends that really required any further resolution.

But when a movie grosses $270 million worldwide on just an $18 million budget, sequel is the inevitable result. Thus, Universal Pictures brings us Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, which opens wide this Friday. Stoller, Rogen and Byrne are all back, as are Efron and his abs, which practically deserve co-star billing. The result is a pleasant surprise in more ways than one – a film that's arguably funnier than the original, with a theme that speaks to today's larger cultural battles over identity politics.

When we rejoin the Radners, they're preparing to sell their college-town home and move to a larger one in the suburbs with their growing brood. The neighboring frat house is long-shuttered and its former occupants have graduated into the real world, although Efron's character – slapped with a criminal conviction for his escapades in the first film – struggles to find both gainful employment and his own sense of purpose.

Meanwhile, the film introduces a gaggle of freshmen gals who are decidedly disenchanted with what they find on campus. Living in the dorms means submitting to the authority of their male resident adviser, who is free to bust into their rooms any time they happen to be smoking pot. Joining an established sorority offers little respite from the patriarchy, as they learn that sororities aren't allowed to host their own parties (the film, in exposition delivered via a Selena Gomez cameo, characterizes this as a national "law," which it isn't, but it is real and actual longstanding policy of the National Panhellenic Conference that governs Greek life). This leaves sorority members and other women on campus who want to let loose with the sole option of attending "rapey" fraternity parties where they are more prey than guests.

Three of the girls — Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein, younger sister of Jonah Hill) — decide to buck the system and start their own sorority, Kappa Nu, where the ladies will control the parties and what gets slipped into the punch. This, of course, leads them to move into the old Delta Psi Beta house, next door to the Radners, who fear their new neighbors will scare away the buyers while their real-estate deal remains in escrow. Egged on by Teddy and his aforementioned abs, the dispute rapidly escalates into full-scale war.

The usual hijinks — of both the gross-out and slapstick variety — ensue. Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily. I'd want to check the pulse of any viewer who doesn't crack up involuntarily at the series' exploding air-bag gags, which make their predictable return. But the film also deftly mines comedy from its core themes. Like Teddy, the school's administration and even the Radners themselves can see why the Kappa Nu girls' cause is just. They don't want to shut the house down forever – just long enough to pass the nuisance on to the new buyers.

For all its progressive feminism, it'd be nice if the film offered its female characters somewhat fuller characterizations. Byrne, who was the highlight of the first film, has a significantly diminished role here. Moretz's character alternates wildly between pot-smoking rebel, insecure loner and spoiled daddy's girl in ways that can come off as schizophrenic. And Feldstein's stock part as "chubby grotesque" will be familiar to anyone who has seen Rebel Wilson or Melissa McCarthy in anything in the past five years.

It isn't high art by any stretch of the imagination, but Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising keeps the belly laughs coming, even as it offers smart meta-commentary on why we're laughing. Audiences will no doubt want to visit with these neighbors again.

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