When the first Neighbors opened in 2014 and achieved surprise smash hit status, I was a senior in high school. College was just a couple months away, and in many ways, the film confirmed many of the stereotypes that I had held about the life ahead of me. Obviously, my life was about to become a series of wild parties that acted as something of a vacuum until the day that I needed to join society. However, once I actually got on campus, I realized something. The days of the traditional social structure are coming to a close, with social justice (sexism in particular) becoming a major topic of conversation. This brings us to Sorority Rising, a film that has realized how much times have changed even in the short vacuum of 2014 to 2016. If the first installment was a few wistful old men reflecting on their college days, this one is them visiting their campus today.
The story picks up with Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) selling their house while also grappling with having another baby on the way. Currently, the house is in escrow, which is all well and good until a new pack of neighbors arrives in the form of a sorority named Kappa Nu. However, Kappa Nu is out for blood as its founder Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) is tired of the sexist Greek rule stating that sororities cannot throw parties in their own houses. Unwilling to wait until Mac and Kelly leave to get things rolling, another war breaks out between the two houses. Meanwhile, ex-fraternity top dog Teddy (Zac Efron) finds himself in need of a new purpose in life, which he finds in teaming up with his formal rivals to take down the girls.
Creating a culture clash not only between old and young but between young men and young women is a rich set-up that provides Sorority Rising with a few more toys to play with than the average wheel spinning comedy sequel. In fact, the film’s funniest moments are not from the set-pieces, but from several exchanges that tread on the land mines of feminism and privilege. It certainly helps that Rogen and Efron are such lovable goofballs, with Byrne giving them a sharp mirror to play off of. However, problems start when we get to Moretz. As a villain in the first film, Efron’s teddy was an absolute force of nature. However, Moretz simply isn’t bringing it here. While the premise behind Shelby is fantastic, her delivery is often rather flat and as such the character never really comes to life. In fact, it’s Moretz’s fellow sisters who often get the biggest laughs out of that camp, particularly Beanie Feldstein, Kiersey Clemons, and Awkwafina. However, since the sorority doesn’t have a terribly strong anchor, a great deal of their jokes and social commentary fall flat.
Returning director Nicholas Stoller is a much sloppier behind the camera, this time around, particularly in the bigger sequences. Neighbors had a palpable sense of scale, particularly in its excellent climax that threw everything at the wall. Here, the set-pieces are choppily edited, particularly a horrifically un-funny chase sequence through a tailgate party that feels thrown together from whatever footage they could get before the extras wanted to go home. Every scene is only as good as the gag, with Stoller really making no attempt to add any flair to the film’s weaker scenes. This is particularly true in the third act, which completely fizzes out to the point where one wonders if there was some kind of budgetary restriction. Stoller’s direction here stinks of contractual obligation and frankly, a more invested director could have made this a film every bit as solid as the first one.
Instead, Sorority Rising settles for being decent. It’s certainly good for a few laughs and the inventive conceit does provide for some fun character moments, but it’s lacking the energy in front of and behind the camera that the original had. It might be the more socially relevant of the two for the moment, but as time wears on it, I suspect that it will be considered more of a B-side in Rogen’s filmography. Come on Seth, let’s get on to the talking sausages.