The Radnors are the source of the film's biggest pitfalls, as they are mostly a comedy black hole. Their daughter is now a toddler and another baby's on the way, but they seem to have regressed since the first film. It's one thing for a couple to be frazzled with their first baby, but here, there's bongs all over the place and their daughter's favorite toy is the vibrator she found in Kelly's bedroom. There's something about this film and its predecessor that makes me feel like a curmudgeon. In the first one, it was a misunderstanding of what hazing is and the 'joke' of planting undetonated airbags in a house where a mother holding her baby may very well sit on it. Here, the Radnors are overly-indulgent and practically negligent in an alienating way.
The other returning player, Zac Efron's Teddy, has a more coherent characterization than the Radnors. He's flailing where his fraternity brothers are flourishing, including best friend Pete (Dave Franco), who, perhaps in an unearned impulse towards PC inclusiveness, is gay now because why not? Teddy falls in with Shelby et al as an advisor, and then switches sides mid-film to help the Radnors drive the sorority out. Efron gave his character the cocksure attitude someone that looked like Efron would have in the original, mixed with the creeping fear that his life would get dramatically worse once he graduated. Now out of his protective bubble, he's more vulnerable and more insecure, a babe in the woods who doesn't know how to boil a pot of water. It's a sweet depiction of a quarter-life crisis, and another surprising turn for a film that's trying harder than expected.
One area that could've used more effort is the script. There are quite a few hanging threads that are ignored or papered over, making the events seem far easier than they otherwise should've been. After taking the recommendation to Google why sororities can't throw parties, one can find that it's not a law but standard practice of sororities' umbrella organization, as parties make insurance rates go through the roof. This foundational impetus does not come up in Neighbors 2, which instead takes a half measure and lets the viewer assume that this is an unjust law. Money in general isn't much of an issue. Billy Eichner plays a real estate agent who leases the sorority house for an absurdly low rate, and what money they do raise is based on squealing on all the weed dealers in the city and cornering the market. This brief entrance into the crime genre is exactly that, a near-sociopathic move that does not come up again. A badly-calibrated 'prank' being misjudged as fun is what killed the original for me, and it's apparently the calling card for this series.
Neighbors 2 is an improvement over a mean original, but this is still a film with hard-to-ignore problems. Rogen has rarely been as irritating as he is here and the usually-brilliant Byrne makes a minimal impression, though Efron and most of the students, especially newcomer Nora Lum, are a lot of fun. Outside of steady laughs, the film's greatest asset is the feel of seeing college women party on their own terms. Sad Movie Night looks like a great bonding experience, far more than the casual racism and sexism in something like a Pimps and Ho's party. That nugget carries Neighbors 2 across the finish line, but there's not really a need for a Neighbors 3. C