Behold the frat party. When Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) braved a bash in 2014's Neighbors, it was a bacchanalia of delights: a hard-drinking, sweaty, gyrating fountain of youth foaming from a keg. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, directed again by Nicholas Stoller, takes a second look through the eyes of female freshmen Shelby, Beth, and Nora. But now the party is a nightmare, and this time as the camera winds through the house, we see the leers; what was glorious is suddenly gross. After forking over $20 at the door, the girls are supposed to give the boys free entertainment on the stripper pole, in a kiddie pool of pudding, or upstairs in the bedroom. They've paid money to be treated like prostitutes. "It was super rapey in there!" gasps Beth (Kiersey Clemons), gulping in the fresh air of freedom in the front yard.
So we're on their side when the trio launches an unofficial sorority — emphasis on un, as legit sororities are forbidden to throw their own parties. ("Only frats can,” explains Selena Gomez in a cameo as a prim Phi Lambda president.) To rage, these freshman feminists have to go rogue.
It just so happens that there's a house for rent: the former frat battleground next to Mac and Kelly's home. And it even comes with its own ghost: Zac Efron's former fraternity president Teddy Sanders, who's gone from young prince to pathetic. Thanks to his prank war with the marrieds, Teddy's criminal record has made it tough to get a job. Worse, his best friend Pete (Dave Franco) wants him out of their apartment. Teddy runs, barefoot and eerily upright like the T-1000, back to the last place he felt proud, and volunteers to help Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth, and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) launch the coolest sorority in town — and as a bonus, sabotage enemies Mac and Kelly's attempts to sell their place and move.
Neighbors 2 is a war of idiots. Mac and Kelly still go glassy-eyed when actual grown-ups lecture them on something important and boring -- like, say, escrow -- which is how the new sorority could bankrupt them if their potential home buyers back out. Alas, Byrne, saddled with a huge pregnant tummy, doesn't get as many good jokes as the last time. It's up to Efron, the best dim bulb in the business, to make up the difference. His character might be a hot-bodied loser, but he's the movie's MVP. Teddy can't figure out how to feed himself. When Mac takes pity and teaches him to cook, he's astounded by science. "Why would hot water make eggs hard when it makes pasta soft?" he asks, with deadpan sincerity.
The movie's real target is Shelby and her pack of shrieking millennials. Moretz, Clemons, and Feldstein are terrifically funny, especially in their casual way of calling thirtysomething Mac and Kelly "old people" as though it's simply a fact. At first, their crusade is inspiring. I'm way jealous of their Feminist Icon Party, with pledges costumed like Oprah and three versions of Hillary Clinton: senator, first lady, and future president. Yet we start to see that the girls spot misogyny everywhere — even when it doesn't exist. They scream "Sexist!" like toddlers who just learned the word "no." Both words have a magical ability to cut short conversation. We are navigating a moment where every group, even white men, is quick to take offense. But Neighbors 2's Social Justice Warrior critique would feel less sour if it weren't written by five white guys. I guess this is still their party after all.