‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Uprising’
Nicholas Stoller
Stars: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Neighbors 2” has at least two good reasons to exist. For one, it provides another chance for likable actors, playing often unlikable people, to engage in blue ad-libbing. Once again Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) find themselves at war with a house of hard partying collegiates. The airbag bombs make a token return or two, while our parental sorta-heroes once again devolve into the anxious, scheming children lurking underneath their mature exteriors. But Rogen and Byrne — plus Zac Efron’s Abercrombie ex-frat boy — are talented enough to find new spins on their dumb characters, especially in a scene where they each take turns struggling epically to spell the word “sorority.”

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Speaking of which, that’s the second, more noble reason “Neighbors 2” isn’t a mere no-brainer sequel. This go, Mac and Kelly’s nemeses aren’t a house of bros, but a house of girls. Led by Chloe Grace Moretz’s Shelby, her gang arrived at college to learn that only frat houses, not sororities, can throw parties. Instantly rankled by shindigs stacked with boozers rocking “No Means Yes” tees, they seek autonomy in the form of the same off-campus house that Efron’s Teddy once ruled over with his oft-shirtless bod. Their deafening soirees, which draw huge crowds of women hoping to escape four years of horndogs, prove more than a mere total annoyance to Mac and Kelly: With a second baby en route, they’re set to move. Thing is, their house is, thanks to their own barely mature stupidity, in escrow, meaning the new owners can pull out at any second and they’ll be paying for two homes.

It’s a catch-22, with both sides alternately sympathetic and juvenile. It’s also so ostenatious about being progressive it makes one wonder about ulterior motives. Like the Judd Apatow-directed “Trainwreck,” it’s impossible not to read “Neighbors 2” as Rogen and company’s mea culpa for a career spent in an oblivious bubble of dudedom. 

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If all “Neighbors 2” was was well-meaning it might have eventually proven tiresome. But it knows to be hilarious while being angry. That's not always easy. Most films can be one but not the other. But "Neighbors 2" finds the balance. The denizens of the sorority house aren’t only righteous; they’re allowed to be as funny and fun and lewd as the fratters in “Neighbors 1.” (There are a lot of dildo jokes, one made by Kelsey Grammer.) Think piece-y points — e.g., the deep-seated hypocrisy of thinking women getting laid is bad but men getting laid is awesome — come in the form of gut-busting satirical jabs. The same goes for jokes that aren’t strictly feminist: One throwaway bit finds overzealous police raiding the town’s bevvy of weed dealers, going hot-shot on white peddlers but freaking out and turning mousy when they’re black.

Actually, “Neighbors 2” has a third excellent raison d’etre: It’s a healthy reminder that Efron is a national treasure … in these two “Neighbors” films. His Teddy is a stud who’s been out to pasture since graduation. Gone is the smirking confidence he rocked through most of the first; he spends the majority of “2” crestfallen, wimpering hysterically about his friends’ successes and his own obsolescence, exploiting the last few years he has left as six-packed eye candy. It’s hard not to feel bad for Efron, an actor of limited powers and increasingly Dorian Gray-like good looks — just as it’s hard not to find his sorrow a source of perfectly timed and delivered hilarity. Make a third one just for him.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge