Neighbors 2 **1/2

Rowdy sequel to the 2014 hit isn’t quite as funny and carries a heavy-handed feminist bent.

Is it worth $10? Yes

For all its dildo jokes, used tampon throwing, weed-smoking, visible baby-breaching inanity, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is also a heavy-handed feminist tale of empowerment and unity. That’s right: This crass comedy that only occasionally connects is sending a strong message to women to live their own way, not how society tells them they should.

So “cheers” to the filmmakers for trying to send the right message. And “jeers” for doing it so poorly.

Listen, I get it: With a female presidential candidate (yes, there is a Hillary joke in the movie) and women’s rights as relevant and pressing as they’ve ever been, the filmmakers didn’t want to take the stereotypical approach in depicting a sorority full of 18 year olds pillow fighting, etc. But the pro-feminist message gets tiresome when it’s as redundant as it is here, and notably distracts from the obscene and absurd comedy going on around it. Director Nicholas Stoller’s heart is in the right place, but the weighty message needs to be done more subtly to make a proper impact in a comedy such as this. Also: If you’re going to show the strength of college girls, perhaps they could at least mention school. Or go to class. Or be seen with a book.

Somewhat lost in their own story are poor Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne). They survived the fraternity next door led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) in “Neighbors” (2014), and now as they’re about to sell their home a sorority full of party girls moves into Teddy’s old place. Second verse, same as the first. Appalled that sororities can’t throw parties, Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) start recruiting for their new sorority, Kappa Nu, and therefore endanger the completion of Mac and Kelly’s sale. Conveniently the girls bump into Teddy and enlist him for guidance, which is great because he’s still in search of himself, but bad because they soon cast him aside. Feeling besmirched, Teddy teams with Mac, Kelly, and their crazy friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) to take down the sorority.

As a whole “Neighbors 2” isn’t as funny or successful as the first film, in large part because the ideas are recycled but not necessarily creatively better. The war of wills between the neighbors escalates quickly in ways that are both surprising and unrealistic: Is it believable that Teddy and Mac could steal an entire garbage bag full of weed at a tailgate party? Or that Shelby and Beth could sneak into Mac and Kelly’s house in broad daylight and switch the numbers in their phones? Not at all. But it’s a comedy, and these improbabilities are acceptable. You just can’t have that level of absurdity matched with a robust feminist message – the incongruity between fantasy and reality is too great for it to resonate properly.

Still, the rest of “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is funny enough to warrant a moderate recommendation, with the caveat that it’s not as good as the first one and may leave some underwhelmed. If nothing else, ladies will get an encouraging message and a Zac Efron striptease out of it.

Did you know?
Selena Gomez cameos as the leader of the Phi Lamda sorority.

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