The two takeaways from “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” are Zac Efron’s abs never cease to amaze and someone needs to give Rose Byrne the lead in her own comedy. She is no one’s bridesmaid anymore — she’s gold.
Other than that, “Neighbors 2” is a familiar follow up to the 2014 surprise smash from director Nick Stoller, who’s back behind the camera for the sequel. Seth Rogen and Byrne reprise their roles as Mac and Kelly, a married couple who went to war with the friendly next-door fraternity. The first film was a bawdy blast from start-to-finish; the new movie, not so much. It packs laughs but still has too many lulls over its 92-minute runtime. Seems the committee of five who wrote the script couldn’t make lightning strike twice even though they cleverly flip the gender so girls can fight for their right to party.
Led by not-your-typical sorority co-eds played by Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein, the progressive girls of Kappa Nu are on a mission to buck the sexist Greek system rules that do not allow sororities to throw parties. The girls are super tired of the “super rape-y” vibe of frat boy throw downs that feature stripper poles, mud wrestling, “Cosby-d” punch and songs like “Party in My Pants” on constant loop. “Let’s start our own sorority to party how we want to,” Moretz’s stoner Shelby decides. To get up and running, the girls enlist former frat boy Teddy Sanders (Efron), who’s in the throes of a “quarter-life crisis” and still has an ax to grind with Mac and Kelly. And he’s still frequently shirtless.
Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) sticks with themes that worked the first time – parenthood, fleeting youth and friendship. When we catch up with Mac and Kelly, they are in the process of moving to a bigger house and expecting their second child – another girl. And, as one character points out, girls are way worse than boys. Before you can say “foreshadowing,” Kappa Nu moves in to the former frat house next door. A war of pranks ensues, with the girls proving to be a more formidable foe than Efron’s rowdy band of Greeks. Their shenanigans threaten the sale of Mac and Kelly’s home.
“Neighbors 2” is lewd and crude but has a heart of gold, especially in its way-too-deliberate socially conscious message about female empowerment. Before the pot smoke clears, the girls show how they can be just as vulgar and idiotic as boys.
A terrific cast of comedic actors prop up the proceedings, especially Lisa Kudrow, Ike Barinholtz, Dave Franco, Kelsey Grammer, Abbi Jacobson and Liz Cackowski. In a hysterical scene between Rogen’s Mac and Efron’s Teddy, the duo show off their physical comedy chops with an airbag-related bit. The slapstick, sight gags and quips are memorable, but not as intently as it would have been if the script weren’t so slavishly episodic and repetitive. The movie moves from one situation, prank or pratfall to the next with the jokes and gags proving hit or miss.

— Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.

Movie review
NEIGHBORS 2
(R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying.)
Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein.
Grade: B