Never especially brave, but neither does it at any point threaten to sink into the hopeless banality of so many gross-out sequels. We could have had it far, far worse – these guys are all clearly enjoying themselves.
The United States and Britain, the old chestnut goes, are two countries said to share all but a common language, and nowhere is this disparity evidenced better than in the glut of college movies American distributors have seen fit to unleash upon Dear Old Blighty over the course of the past three decades. These imports have generally failed to travel well, and it’s easy to see why – Yankee university culture, with its pep rallies, gym-bros and migraine-inducing array of Greek letters, is simply unrelatable, its manifold formalities and sacraments as alien to our naturally conservative palates as the mating rites of bonobos.
It was this factor that underpinned responses on this side of the Atlantic to the first Neighbors film (released here as Bad Neighbours, to avoid confusion with the beloved soap), a sleeper hit of 2014; whilst some found much to love in the wonderfully disgraceful antics of Zac Efron and his ‘brothers’, other cinemagoers were left totally in the dark.
One is pleased to report that the sequel makes a genuine effort to do something slightly different, but those unenthused by Part Alpha are still advised to steer clear – whatever the writers’ good intentions, the third-act Chumbawamba reference (listen out) is unlikely to go far in ingratiating foreign audiences already put out by the predecessor.
Two years after their epic clash with the frat house next door, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have finally settled back into their old routine, parenting terribly whilst they await the birth of their second child. Their plans to skip town, however, are scuppered with the arrival of a hard-partying sorority on the block, led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), a tenacious freshman. In the ensuing battle of wits, they will be forced to enlist the aid of the irredeemably slow-witted Teddy (Zac Efron), soul-searching in the wake of his best friend’s (Dave Franco) engagement to another man. The first film’s plethora of weed and airbag gags are subsequently injected with feminist commentary in a manner that could easily have descended into deplorable crassness; the chemistry of the leads, however, sets it apart from your average gross-fest, and the direction maintains a screwball consistency.
It’s a stoner comedy (a stoner comedy sequel, in that), so take it on its own terms. Whilst the exquisitely sleazy Zac Efron would have benefited from a more focused script treatment, Seth Rogen, likeable as he is, is beginning to morph into a very pedestrian screen presence – he is likeable, but the middle-aged slacker act is hardly as daring or imaginative as he seems to think it is: middle-class window dressing aside, Mac is essentially The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s Cal playing house with an Australian.
Whereas this sort of picture would have carried a subversive weight decades ago, however, progressive multiplex outrages have already sapped the humour of its edge; Bad Neighbours 2 puts a welcome twist on the formula, with a dash of heart – and maybe even a little brain – underpropping the usual tampon, pot and vomit jokes.
Rest assured, this is no Dirty Grandpa. The thematics were always going to be ham-handed in a film of this nature, but that’s probably part of its charm – Teddy’s metamorphosis into a gold-hearted egalitarian is a hoot, and the interplay between Shelby and her sisters proves an infinitely more endearing watch than the frat boy willy-fencing of the first movie.
Bad Neighbours 2 (2016), directed by Nicholas Stoller, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures. Certificate 15.