Movie review: "Neighbors 2" improves on original on most every level

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

My biggest knock on the 2014 comedy "Neighbors" was that it played too much into its dumb raunch and targeted the same frat/bro audience it was seeking to lampoon.

So while I don't want to overstate how much of a pleasant surprise its sequel is, I'll just say the follow-up is smarter and better than its predecessor.

To quickly recap the first movie for the uninitiated: New parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) move into their dream home, only to find a wild fraternity living next door. An elaborate prank war ensues between the Radners and the frat, led by its president, Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron).

"Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising" certainly doesn't waste any energy on anything like, I don't know, a new plot construction. The Radners are expecting their second child, so they sell their house for an upgrade, only to soon learn the meaning of "in escrow."

While they're waiting for the buyer to finalize, you'll never guess what moves in next door! Well, unless you've read the name of the movie.

While this seems like a carbon-copy of the predecessor - and kicks off with a similarly crass gag - the sorority angle is actually a breath of fresh air.

This sorority was actually founded by a college freshman named Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her friends who find normal Greek life ridiculously sexist. Particularly the rule that says sororities can't throw parties. After attending their first fraternity party, one remarks correctly, "It was super-rapey in there."

Teddy also returns, but he's a kinder, gentler version for the most part. And, again, the sequel benefits, as Efron is actually pretty funny when he wants to be.

Director Nicholas Stoller returns, as do the original writers - although they got some help this time, as Stoller, Rogen and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad") are credited.

This is still a dumb, raunchy, R-rated comedy at heart - with a couple jokes and gags that may cross the line for many.

But this is coupled with an oddly compelling feminist message: Girls "get to be just as dumb as boys now." That and an uptick in actual laughs make this one recommended.

"Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"

Opens Friday

3 stars out of 4