As a sequel to a film that didn’t set the bar very high, Bad Neighbours 2 didn’t have to do a lot to emerge as a superior film than its predecessor. Given that 2014’s Bad Neighbours was such a typical foray into the world of sexist, puerile fraternity culture, it is somewhat surprising that Bad Neighbours 2 challenges such traditions, lambasting the inherent misogyny of the American university system. Don’t expect any in-depth exploration of gender inequity though because, ultimately, Bad Neighbours 2 relies largely on the same jokes and an almost identical premise that only serves to undermine anything interesting it has to say.
Whereas Bad Neighbours saw new parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) Radner terrorised when a fraternity moved in to the neighbouring property, Bad Neighbours 2 picks up several years after these events with the couple and their young daughter Stella (Elise Vargas) preparing to move out of their home, which has been sold subject to a 30-day settlement period. However, when a bunch of teenage girls – led by the perennially pot smoking Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) – take over the house next door, the Radner’s seek out their new neighbours with a request to keep the partying down. From here, the story is very familiar as this seemingly reasonable request (depending on your perspective I guess) results in an escalation to all-out war. Teddy (Zac Efron), the directionless principal antagonist from the first film, returns to lend his ‘expertise’ to the girls who, turned off by the strict rules of other sororities (which includes a ban on hosting parties) set out to create their own sisterhood; Kappa Nu.
Perhaps in response to criticisms targeted at the first film, Bad Neighbours 2 offers much more in the way of social commentary, particularly with regard to the way young women are typically portrayed in films such as this. You see, these girls have no interest in being used or objectified by men and intend to party on their own terms. When the women of Kappa Nu opt for used tampons as their weapon of choice for an assault on the Radner house, Teddy’s reaction is one of disgust and is a personification of the attitude towards women and female characters in Hollywood. You see, the idea of drunken young men flinging all manner of bodily fluids around the place would be seen as hilarious by Teddy and the male audience to whom these films are typically targeted, yet the thought of women doing the same is somehow icky and gross. Similarly, a recurring joke about Kelly’s dildo being Stella’s favourite toy is a welcome change to the typically salacious ways in which female masturbation is typically dealt with on screen. Of course, Stella has no idea what she is playing with, but the fact that Kelly is unfazed by what would ordinarily be treated as a great embarrassment is a refreshing change, so kudos to director Nicholas Stoller and co-writers Andrew Cohen, Brendan O’Brien and Evan Goldberg for being prepared to challenge the Hollywood hegemony.
The performances are no more, or less, than you expect for a film such as this. Moretz is fine as the leader of the ladies despite, at 19, looking considerably younger than her character is supposed to be. While Rogen and Byrne make easy work of their roles, Efron’s main function is doing what he does best; looking pretty. In her first feature role since her impressive big screen debut as Diggy in Dope, Kiersey Clemens has little chance to shine as Shelby’s sorority sister Beth, while Beanie Feldstein is confined to a ‘whacky fat girl’ stereotype as Nora. Carla Gallo, Ike Barinholtz and Dave Franco reprise their roles from the first film, with cameos from the likes of Selena Gomez and Kelsey Grammer. Ultimately, despite those moments that stand out as distinctly nonconforming to Hollywood traditions, the film is essentially a series of sketches and subsequently suffers from a lack of character development and narrative coherence. Sure, Bad Neighbours 2 is (marginally) better than Bad Neighbours, but neither is ever likely to be entrenched in the annals of classic cinema.