After the success of 2014’s “Neighbors,” starring Seth Rogen as a home-owning father and Zac Efron as the rowdy frat boy who moves in next door, there was only one way the sequel could go: “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is the female-oriented follow-up, in which the girls prove just as outrageous as the boys.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with girls, or to anyone who’s been following Hollywood’s attempts to make amends for decades of male-dominated comedies. In the wake of “Bridesmaids,” “Trainwreck,” “Sisters” and many a Melissa McCarthy movie, “Neighbors 2” arrives with a feminist mandate and an eagerness to give women equal opportunity in the raunch department. None of the film’s five writers is a woman, however, and it shows.
Not that the movie isn’t occasionally funny. Rogen and Efron are once again well-matched as schlubby Mac and chiseled Teddy, this time teaming up against the Kappa Nus, led by Chloë Grace Moretz in a somewhat wobbly performance as Shelby, a renegade stoner. The Kappas are appalled that college sororities are barred from serving alcohol, so they fight for their right to party by moving off-campus next to hapless Mac and his wife, Kelly (Rose Byrne).
“Neighbors 2” wants to overturn old stereotypes and stigmas, but isn’t sure how to go about it. The Kappas berate Teddy for his macho insensitivity (it never occurred to him that all those “ho” themed parties were demeaning), yet he’s also completely accepting of his gay friend Pete (Dave Franco). The Kappas refuse to demean themselves sexually, but the movie does it for them, hosing them down and pressing them “accidentally” against Mac’s windshield. Whenever “Neighbors 2” can’t reconcile its opposing sensibilities, it defaults to safe mode: gross jokes about vomit and tampons.
“Neighbors 2” deserves credit for focusing on women who want equality and respect, but the writers — including Rogen and director Nicholas Stoller — can’t quite turn these women into real people. Only once, when the Kappas humiliate themselves by donning lingerie to raise money for their home, do we really feel for them. “Neighbors 2” might have benefited from a little gender diversity behind the camera as well as in front of it.