Progess! Just a little bit! Dumb movie depicts teenaged girls behaving badly — with a positive vibe, just like the boys have gotten since forever — and gives a platform for their wants and needs especially in how they diverge from the bad behavior and wants and needs of teenaged boys. It’s not often we hear a teenaged girl — gosh, and a nonwhite teenaged girl at that! — complain onscreen, with would-be comic panache, that a frat party was “super rapey.” Hooray!
But still: Bad Neighbours 2 — aka Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising — is nevertheless a dumb movie. And worse, it’s a comedy that isn’t funny. The problem with the line “It was super rapey in there” about that frat party isn’t the delivery by hugely charming up-and-comer Kiersey Clemons, who is wonderful and will go far if the right smart parts can be found for a young black woman in Hollywood; her comic panache is fine. It’s that she is speaking a simple truth: she’s not saying anything outrageous, as this sort of movie demands. It may be unexpected that she is up there on the screen saying such a thing in such a movie as this — that her viewpoint is given any credence at all — but that’s not the same thing as “funny.” And “about damn time” is the only thing that earns this movie the slightest kind of pass from me.
There are other unexpectedly progressive aspects to Bad Neighbours 2: the homophobia of its progenitor has been replaced by a sweet acceptance of the fluidity of sexual attraction; it acknowledges that women like to look at attractive men and can be driven to distraction by them. But this is otherwise more of the same of the original movie: a fragmented mess that throws out lots of attempts at humor and way too much grossout and rarely strikes a chord with any of it. I laughed precisely once, at a bit of slap-schtick that is even more cartoonish that everything else around it. It made me want to go watch some Bugs Bunny cartoons, not more of this.
The first Neighbors had two distinct stories sitting uncomfortably next to each other, that of Kelly (Rose Byrne: Spy, Annie) and Mac (Seth Rogen: The Night Before, Steve Jobs), new parents uneasily adapting to life tethered to helpless infant, and that of Teddy (Zac Efron: We Are Your Friends, That Awkward Moment) and Pete (Dave Franco: Unfinished Business, 22 Jump Street), best friends running the fraternity house next door; the two duos clashed in battles over the needs of a quiet suburban neighborhood versus the wants of a rowdy bunch of college guys. Here, three stories bump into one another even more inelegantly. Kelly and Mac have become complete idiots and terrible parents to their now toddler daughter — and no, there’s not even any satirical undertone about parenthood turning people into baby-talking morons — and their plan to sell their house has been scuppered by a sorority moving in next door. (That house had been empty and quiet for a while.) The sorority is run by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz: The 5th Wave, The Equalizer), Beth (Clemons: Dope), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), which they started because frat bros are so rapey and they wanted to party on their own terms. But they don’t know how to run the business of a sorority, so they enlist Teddy, who has had a falling out with Pete and is at odds with himself; he still hasn’t grown up and only feels at home at a college party.
Alliances among the three sides shift with the demands of comedy, but escalation feels more like desperation on the parts of returning director Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement, Get Him to the Greek)and his cowriters, Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Evan Goldberg, and Rogen. Even they can tell when the funny is flagging (which is always): they toss in a dildo or have someone say “weed.” Neither works, particularly when everyone onscreen is cool with dildos and weed and there’s no shame involved.
Turns out grossout movies don’t work when they’re progressive any more than they do when they’re regressive, though Stoller and Co. don’t seem to be quite able to shake the reactionary: a Feminist Icon-themed sorority party might be a fresh idea, but a bunch of angry young women chasing down a frightened man and stripping him naked is still sexual assault. It’s pretty rapey, in fact.