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Welcome (back) to the neighborhood Neighbors 2'

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'Sorority Rising' a rehash, but not without its own crass charms

Here in the summer season, we talk a lot about the relative necessity of sequels; we see plenty of them during this segment of the cinematic calendar, after all. To be clear, this isn't about franchise-building. This is about sequels to films that, while successful to some degree, don't appear to really invite revisiting.

2014's 'Neighbors' is just such a movie. A surprisingly effective young-versus-old comedy setting a young married couple (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) against the fraternity next door led by uber-bro Teddy (a never-better Zac Efron), it was a funny and heartwarming movie that showed unusual depth and wrapped up its narrative neatly.

And yethere we have 'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.' More or less a rehash of the first film, there's very little new here. However, the film does have the benefit of a talented ensemble with great chemistry that seems to genuinely enjoy playing together. The movie has its flaws, but cast cohesion goes a long way.

Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) are still hard at work raising their family. They've got a little girl named Stella and another one on the way. Since their family is growing, they've decided to sell their house and buy another one (though their inability to understand the concept of escrow has put them in a bit of a bind).

That plan gets a good deal more difficult when a trio of young ladies Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz, 'The 5th Wave'; Nora (Beanie Feldstein, 'Fan Girl'); and Beth (Kiersey Clemons, TV's 'Transparent') set up shop next door. The girls are frustrated with the antiquated rules that prevent sororities from throwing parties and so decide to go rogue and found their ownright next door to Mac and Kelly.

Kappa Nu quickly finds an unlikely ally in Teddy (Efron), who finds himself drifting as all of his old frat brothers move forward with their lives. His best friend Pete is getting married and wants his fianc to move in. In his search for meaning, Teddy finds himself embraced by Kappa Nu; they value his expertise in the field of partying, so they welcome him.

Mac and Kelly are left once more trying to combat the partiers next door so they can sell their house. Once more, they enlist the aggressively bumbling help of their friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholz, TV's 'The Mindy Project') and Paula (Carla Gallo, TV's 'Bones'). And once more, things escalate rapidly into an all-out prank war that results in both sides taking things way too far.

Like I said, there's nothing new here.

'Neighbors 2' shouldn't work as well as it does. I'm on record as someone who finds this kind of rehash to be off-putting, but somehow, it's more or less OK here.

Yes, there's a dearth of originality and the script (credited to 'Neighbors' co-writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien along with director Nicholas Stoller, regular Rogen collaborator Evan Goldberg and Rogen himself) doesn't have the heartfelt snappiness of the first film; this one might have suffered a bit from having too many cooks.

But while the narrative might not be as cohesive and engaging as the original, there are still plenty of funny moments to be found here. Sure, it meanders a bit, but it usually has a pretty good time getting where it's going.

That's largely due to the cast. Rogen's transition from dude-bro to dad-bro has been a joy to watch. It seemed unlikely that he would be able to hold onto his stoner sensibilities as he grew older, but he really has found a path that works. His dadness feels genuine. And he's got a great partner-in-crime in Byrne, who is fearless. She's got a low-key energy that makes her a perfect match for Rogen. As for Efron, there's something about this role that clearly speaks to him. Teddy allows him to embrace and ever-so-slightly subvert his inherent bro-ness in a way that almost convinces you that he could be a good actor. Almost.

Moretz, Feldstein and Clemons are solid as Kappa Nu's founding trio. Moretz is more than talented enough to hang here, while Feldstein has a handful of strong comedic moments. Clemons is fine, though she's often the odd woman out and left with relatively little to do. Barinholtz and Gallo both go over-the-top weird; sometimes, it's too much, but for the most part, they're fun to watch.

'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising' makes occasional feints at having something deeper to say. There are moments that hint at addressing societal gender bias, generation gaps, parenting fears there's even a largely unnecessary subplot featuring one of Teddy's friends (now a cop) and his partner handling different criminals in decidedly different ways.

Still, all of that is window dressing this is a movie about elaborate pranks and curse words. Not that there's anything wrong with that. 'Neighbors 2' might not be a great movie, but it's pretty good. And for any movie with a '2' in the title, pretty good is good enough.

[3.5 out of 5]


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