Remember the sweet, conciliatory way Neighbors ended two years ago? Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising doesn't, the first sign of a sequel lunging for reasons to exist.
The bromantic truce between square suburbanite Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) and rehabilitated frat king Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) was apparently dropped in the first draft. Bad Teddy is needed to assist new next-door intruders, a rowdy, rogue sorority. Then he isn't, for a skimpier reason. Such is this sequel's cavalier approach.
This time, Mac and wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) are pregnant again and selling their home. The buyers in escrow have 30 days to back out if anything goes wrong, like a couple dozen loud teenagers next door.
Kappa Nu is created by Shelby (no last name; this is dude cinema), a misfit freshman played by Chloe Grace Moretz. Shelby believes traditional sororities set up women to be exploited by fraternities, as Teddy's crew did in Neighbors. They also don't allow smoking weed, and this is a Seth Rogen joint, after all.
The sorority needs money for rent, so Teddy offers his experience at party planning and practically becomes one of the girls. Despite its overt feminism, Neighbors 2 makes the sorority unravel when its guiding man leaves. It's one of several mixed messages in the screenplay, possibly due to having five writers' fingerprints on it.
Jokes come fast and familiar to fans of Rogen's extended film universe, from accidental dosing to air bag slapstick. A running gag involves a toddler coddling a sex toy like a doll. Yet there's also a perceptible maturation in some corners: Rogen's recent mea culpa about homophobic jokes in previous movies is gracefully followed by Teddy's roommate (Dave Franco) coming out, and in a house full of women, not a flash of female nudity.
Among the highlights, a montage of Kappa Nu theme parties, including feminist icon costumes and a teary screening of The Fault in Our Stars, and any scenes featuring Billy Eichner and this movie's version of Rebel Wilson (Beanie Feldstein).
Lowlights include a tailgate party pot caper filmed with hand-held confusion and anything smelling like another sequel. Despite its final image of idyllic isolation, Neighbors 3 could be under construction before the weekend is over.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.