BAD NEIGHBOURS 2. Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz. Directed by Nicholas Stoller. 92 minutes. Rated MA15+ (Strong sexual references, drug use and coarse language).
‘Bad Neighbours 2’ is not as strong as the 2014 original film, but that’s not to say that it is entirely without merit. Though it manages to differentiate itself conceptually with a gender swapped party house moving next-door to a young family this time, its humour is a little less fresh. This should not bode well for a comedy, but it’s diverting enough for most raunchy humour fans, and its comments on sexism in the American collegiate system are worth airing.
After seeing off a fraternity in the first movie, Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are pregnant again, and buy a larger home out of town in anticipation of their growing brood. They sell their current house in escrow, meaning their buyers have 30 days to renege the deal if they so choose. Rogen and Byrne are still a dynamic pairing, and their chemistry is very sweet. They don’t get much character development beyond the same ‘I wonder if we’re bad parents?’ spiel as the last instalment, but they’re likable nonetheless.
Across town, three young pledgers at sorority Phi Lambda realise that, in accordance with the American Greek system’s rules, they are unable to host their own parties. After suffering through a ‘super rape-y’ party hosted by a fraternity, the trio – Shelby, Nora and Beth (played gamely by Chloë Grace Moretz, Beanie Feldstein and Kiersey Clemons) – vow to start their own sorority. Unfortunately for Mac and Kelly, Kappa Kappa Nu happens to open in the big house next door vacated by the vanquished fraternity. With this turn of events boding poorly for their house sale, Mac and Kelly plot to take down their new neighbours any way they can.
Also dragged into the story is Teddy (Zac Efron), stuck in perpetual late adolescence while his former frat buddies are getting engaged and cultivating careers. After moving out of his apartment shared with his friend Pete, he decides to move in with the Kappa Nu girls in a mentoring capacity. However, after they stray from his advice, he comes to the conclusion that he belongs on the side with the ‘old people’, and chooses to help Mac and Kelly dismantle the sorority. Add in the couple’s friends Jimmy and Paula (Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo), and it’s a lively reunion of the first film’s dynamic leads.
On the downside, the laughs are a little thinner this time, and the humour appears more forced. When the script, credited to five writers, turns its attention to gender politics, it’s as though the comedy is put on hold for the serious material to have its moment in the sun. All the best satire manages to meld its laughter with its message, but ‘Bad Neighbours 2’ can’t quite achieve this cohesiveness. While the disparity in American colleges against which it rallies is quite astounding, the comedy never matches its frank assessment of the sexist rules in place. This commentary is also undercut by the lack of character depth given to the young women which it champions, who all seem to be defined by identical traits of disliking fraternities and wanting to party on their own terms.
This is not to say that the entire film is flat. Director Nicholas Stoller employs some choice stylistic flourishes and musical cues (a marching band rendition of Kanye West’s ‘Black Skinhead’ soundtracks a ‘tailgate party’ to rollicking effect), and the plot spools out in a fairly unpredictable way. It’s just less of a home run than its predecessor.
Fans of the ribald first film will leave cinemas pleased, but the real winners are those in that same camp who also have a keen interest in gender inequality. This description may not cast a particularly wide net, but it’s a bold risk worth commending.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out May 5.