Not going to lie: After a $270 million worldwide box-office haul for the refreshingly lewd 2014 original flick Neighbors, the sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising could have been nothing more than a cash grab. Instead, it’s an R-rated cash grab with big laughs, lots of heart, and–surprise, surprise–an open hearted, progressive and non-snarky way of lacing in comments about race, sexuality and gender. Really.
Five screenwriters are credited with the simple—and very familiar—blueprint. Married-with-baby Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, their easy chemistry and comic chops intact) still live next door to the same party-hardy Delta Psi fraternity house from Neighbors but the couple’s much abused house is up for sale. With a second baby coming, Mac and Kelly are in a one-month escrow holding pattern before they can move to a new house in the ‘burbs. If the new buyers (watch out for Veep breakout star Sam Richardson as the husband) sniff out any problems, they have 30 days to pull out of the deal.
Meanwhile, ex-fraternity guy Pete (Dave Franco) gets a marriage proposal from his boyfriend, a turn of events that makes his roomie Teddy (Zac Efron, displaying shrewd comic timing and his famous torso) less surprised that Pete is gay than shocked that, friendless, dateless and aging, he must move on with his life and find a new place to live.
Enter Shelby, Beth and Nora (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein), college freshman girls who want to have fun but who can’t stomach sexist, Neanderthal “the bros vs. hoes” vibe at fraternity parties, where posted signs read “No Means Yes.” During a weed-guzzling session, the trio hatch the idea of launching their own sisterhood-is-powerful sorority and scrape up enough money to take over the old Delta Psi house. Strapped for cash and know-how, they get Teddy as their advisor and live-in “hot guy.” Of course, the girls morph into sorority demons and their parties get epically out of control, launching a full-on students vs. old people war, which threatens Mac and Kelly’s home sale.
Although the women’s frantic efforts to hold onto the house and their friendship don’t hit the gross-out highs of the first Neighbors, the movie’s gender switch still keeps the laughs coming fast and furious—only this time they’re a little more complex and thoughtful. Don’t worry: The jokes about weed, dildos, bad parenting, Hillary Clinton, vomiting during sex and dirty tampons hit every 10 seconds or so. There’s also good stuff from Billy Eichner, Lisa Kudrow, Hannibal Buress and Kelsey Grammer, and a flat-out hilarious turn from rapper and Girl Code star Awkwafina.
Even with occasional flashes of edge, there’s an unexpected coziness and sweetness about Neighbors 2 that may resonate a lot more strongly with the ladies than with dudes. It’s as if director Nicholas Stoller and his co-screenwriters Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien fused Neighbors with the Duplass brothers’ Togetherness and Pitch Perfect. Who saw *that *coming?