Thursday, 12 May 2016

Bad Neighbours 2

Comedy sequels are never as good as their predecessors, it is essentially a fact. The Hangover, a brilliantly funny film, was followed by The Hangover 2, a horribly unfunny film. Kick-Ass, one of my favourite films, was followed by Kick-Ass 2, a film so bad that I try to pretend it never actually happened. Garfield, a solid film, was followed by Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties, and let's not even go there. The only major exception to the rule I can think of is the 21/22 Jump Street franchise. 22 Jump Street succeeded by taking a tongue in cheek approach to the comedy sequel archetype, but it simultaneously found a fun way to tell its story, healthily developed its leading characters and packed in a ridiculous amount of comedy. I really enjoyed the original Bad Neighbours. It wasn't the greatest film ever made, sure, but it was energetic, well performed and it made me laugh an awful lot. So where does this sequel place in the comedy sequel rankings, then? Well, it's an odd one. It does fall victim to being inferior to its predecessor, but it's a much more enjoyable film than I ever expected it to be.

The base premise is pretty similar to last time. Mac and Kelly (the ever brilliant Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne) are trying to sell their house when it is placed on a thirty day escrow, meaning the new buyers can drop by whenever they want to check out the neighbourhood and such. On the first day of this escrow, a sorority moves in next door. The group, led by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), want to be different and attempt to break away from the typically feminine sorority stereotype by throwing loud parties like the fraternities do. While this begins, Teddy (Zac Efron) is struggling to find his place after College, and gets drafted into the war between the two houses. If it sounds like more of the same, it's because it is. But what surprised me most about Bad Neighbours 2 was how willing it was to dive into gender politics, specifically the differences between the fraternity and the sorority. The downside to all of this, though? The film is about as confident with its thoughts and opinions as a kid on their first day of school. That is to say, it has no idea what it's doing and tries to do everything at once.

And, frankly, it's a mess. The film will have Shelby talk about how she and her friends don't want to abide by stereotypes, and then show them crying hysterically at The Fault In Our Stars three scenes later. In an early sequence they talk about how they'd always rather wear jumpers and hoodies than a skimpy outfit, yet in their first attack on Mac and Kelly they all sit in bikinis and splash in water in the front garden. They talk about wanting to be different, then drop to the floor whenever Zac Efron takes his shirt off. I appreciate that the film tried to be relevant and wanted to do something different, but with such conflicting and contrasting ideas it completely fails to stick the landing. Moretz, as always, tries her hardest, but even her game performance can't save how detestable Shelby is as a character. In fact, all of the sorority characters are about as flat and two dimensional as they come. It's not particularly good that the film wants to make a point about undervalued women but completely botches its female characters.

Bad Neighbours 2 is also really bizarrely paced. Much like the first film, the plot kicks off within minutes, but here the jokes don't really start rolling until the twenty minute mark as we have to spend some time catching up with old characters and being introduced to new ones. This wouldn't matter, though, if this was handled well all round. The reintroduction to Mac and Kelly is great as they remain seriously likeable characters, and returning to them almost feels like catching up with old mates. Returning to Teddy and the old Delta Psi gang is less successful, as the film is incredibly on the nose about where its characters are since the last film. Teddy talks repeatedly about wanting to be valued, which is fine, except he states it all so obviously in the first act that the point is almost lost amid the awkwardness. It's essentially an exposition dump, and a bad one at that. While this obscure pacing makes the film falter early on (and completely botches the sorority's epiphany moment in a rushed conclusion to their arc in the final act), it does allow the film to match the energy levels of its predecessor. In other words, it might not be always be good stuff, but stuff is always happening. I didn't feel the need to check the time once.

This mostly comes down to how much comedy the film manages to pull off. Not every joke sticks the landing, but I'd place the hit to miss ratio at a solid 65:35 (as opposed to the original's 80:20). Bad Neighbours 2 isn't as funny as the first one - it never lands a sequence anywhere close to the original's milking scene - but once the jokes arrive, they come fast and they keep things enjoyable. The airbag sequence near the end of the film reinforces this franchise's knack for visual gags, Teddy's confusion over hardboiled eggs is probably Efron's funniest moment ("Why would it make eggs hard? It makes pasta soft") and Mac's unintentional holocaust line in the middle act is in terrible taste but is arguably the film's biggest laugh. Even when the social commentary is bombing and the plot feels a tad too similar to the first, there's always a solid joke around the corner to distract you. This is helped again by the performances of the three leads. Rose Byrne isn't given as much to do this time around but she makes the absolute most of what she has, while Rogan and Efron are just as great a double act as they were last time. Comedy performances can be difficult to pull off with an uneven script, but these three do fantastic jobs from the word go.

Somehow, the film even builds to a kind of touching and poignant conclusion. The sorority's final sequence is botched completely, but the resolution to the other two arcs are rather, at risk of a better word, sweet. The film finally manages to portray Teddy's longing for value in an appropriate way, and the means that lead him to this realisation are both thoughtful and clever. Mac and Kelly are also treated to a touching scene in the film's climax, as they simply sit with their infant daughter following a perfectly timed appearance from her. It's a surprisingly pleasant and satisfying ending to a film that's more than willing to chuck out jokes on the holocaust and racism. There are more positive traits to Bad Neighbours 2 than there are negative traits, but when the negative aspects of the film are as overwhelming as this it does become difficult to ignore them. You're left with a film that is perfectly entertaining in the moment, and it's easy to have a great time, but you need to leave your brain at the door or else everything the film stands for falls apart. It's good fun; no more, no less.

To Summarise: It suffers from thinly sketched new characters and a lack of understanding in its own opinions, but Bad Neighbours 2 remains an enjoyable, well performed and surprisingly funny comedy sequel, even if it never hits the heights of the original.

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