I love “Bad Neighbours”, even though it represented a watershed moment for me personally: it was the first time I’d found myself siding with the ‘boring’ old folk in a war of the generations comedy. I’m not getting any younger so sure, sign me up for another tour of duty and let the second park war begin!
Two years after they emerged victorious over neighbouring fraternity house, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have another baby on the way and are looking forward to moving home. Committed to buying their dream home, the sale of their current house is at the mercy of the buyers during a 30 day escrow period and their move is jeopardised when a sorority move in next door. Cue another round of escalating shenanigans as the Radners try to shut the party down one more time.
There’s a little bit of a disconnect from the first film here as some of the neatness of the ending is unpicked to allow for the sequel to be woven in, although there’s a completely out of the blue retconning of one of the first movie’s main characters for no real reason apart from to conform to the movie’s newly minted diversity credentials.
Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) is inspired to set up her Kappa Nu sorority after being disappointed by the inequality of the treatment of Fraternities and Sororities and the film ends up tying itself in knots trying to both promote and satirise the rising social justice culture of tolerance and empowerment. It ridicules misogynist attitudes and the patriarchal bias then peppers the film with the laziest feminist stereotypes available. Ultimately it flatters to deceive and has nothing pertinent to say about the subject, using it instead as a Trojan horse for the same old affable mixture of bad taste, shock tactics and scatological shenanigans. The film has little time for subtleties and almost immediately the pranks and stunts are dialled up to eleven but shorn of the gradual escalation, it undermines the fragile authenticity of the situation. The girls’ first strike is too big and would easily have been resolved by calling the police straight away. A later master plan by the sorority to raise funds by cornering the weed market could have been thwarted by deploying their own ratting out tactics against them but of course our ‘heroes’ don’t do that. Essentially, “Bad Neighbours 2” works hardest at finding reasons for the story not to end too quickly, while the audience may find itself seeking the exact opposite. The Radners seem stupider than before (two years of raising a toddler can do that to you , though), wilfully enabling the pranks played against them and even Zac Efron’s hard partying Frat boy Peter Pan seems egregiously dumber than last time (although his abs are still sick), all in the name of keeping the flimsy narrative going. Rogen is, of course, still loveable and charming but the film is relying much more heavily on his charisma this time round. Chloë Grace Moretz struggles with a role which is frequently unevenly written, veering between sympathetic feminist champion and narcissistic petty vindictiveness with little reason. She’s not helped by the fact she’s surrounded by an assortment of sorority sisters who are pale facsimiles of the “Pitch Perfect” gang with Beanie Feldstein in particular trying and failing to emulate Rebel Wilson.
It’s still a pretty funny film but compared to the first one it feels lazy and unoriginal. Lacking a compelling story, its messy mixture of messages and merriment push it firmly into sequel by the numbers territory and it’s only by virtue of the quality and energy of the cast that it succeeds at all.