By BRIAN BOHNERT
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
By now, we’re all used to seeing Zac Efron shirtless.
But it wasn’t until the release of “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” when we could witness a chiseled, bare-chested Zac Efron sniveling like a small child as he comes face to face with his own feelings of insignificance.
And while it is one of the more laugh-out-loud moments, the scene also serves as a perfect summation of the central theme of “Neighbors 2.”
The film, directed by Nicholas Stoller, is much more than a there-goes-the-neighborhood comedy. It’s a hilarious satire of the struggles we face at all phases of life.
It’s finding oneself at a young age. It’s accepting the inevitability of change. And, it’s most certainly coming to terms with the responsibilities of adulthood.
In the first “Neighbors” — released in 2014 — Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) Radner are forced to battle the drunken dude-bros of the Delta Psi fraternity while confronting the realization of growing older and being new parents to baby Stella.
In the sequel, Efron’s lovably dumb Teddy Sanders faces his own identity crisis, deeply rooted in his unwillingness to let go of the good ‘ol’ days when life was a breeze and his value as a person was measured in shot glasses.
Fast-forward two years and Teddy is no longer the “hot guy” of Delta Psi. As his former frat brothers find their own successes in the real world, Teddy remains stagnant with no clear path in life other than to go back to what he knows — sex, drugs and endless partying.
So when a loud sorority moves into his former frat house, Teddy jumps at the opportunity to reclaim his glory and mentor his new sisters.
Meanwhile, Mac and Kelly find themselves in the process of selling the home they so valiantly defended against Teddy and his Delta Psi brothers in preparation for their second child. Despite wooing the potential buyers, the couple must brave the 30-day escrow period as a new obstacle moves next door.
Enter Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) — three college freshmen who rent the fraternity’s former home and start their own independent sorority known as Kappa Nu.
One thing the writers — all five of them — do very well in “Neighbors 2” is show just how real the generational gap is in America.
A millennial who is just a couple years removed from college, Teddy is eventually ousted by his Generation Z peers for being an “old person.”
Now confronting the same generational conflict Mac and Kelly faced in the first film, Teddy finds his purpose by joining his former rivals in their quest to take down the troublesome sorority.
Rogen and Byrne are again a riot as a trainwreck of a married couple — balancing their good intentions with absurdly ridiculous parenting decisions.
Moretz plays the shy girl well. Her character Shelby is everyone in their first year of college: lonely, scared, and desperate to find friends she can be herself around. Though, her turn from edgy introvert to ringleader of Kappa Nu is somewhat mismatched.
Her “Home Alone”-like shenanigans to derail their middle-aged neighbors make her a worthy foil for Mac and Kelly, but it is the return of Efron’s Teddy — deeply embedded in a quarter-life crisis — that prevents the plot from losing steam early.
Newcomer Beanie Feldstein is a lightning rod for laughs every time she’s on screen — and why wouldn’t she, being the younger sister of Oscar nominee Jonah Hill?
The inclusion of Kiersey Clemons (“Dope”) as Beth is another welcome addition to the fray, despite her limited impact on the narrative.
Feldstein, though, is clearly the standout among the three. Her physicality is absurd and crass, and her use of body language to incite giggles is reminiscent of her brother’s work.
In one scene, Feldstein’s Nora awakens from a drunken slumber in the back of Mac’s car, only to be thrown through the windshield when he gets spooked and hits the brakes. Moments later, she springs to her feet and takes off on foot, screaming, “I’m on painkillers!”
Rogen and his ragtag crew follow the same formula all comedy sequels stick to: same plot, slight twist with funny enough gags to forget they’re essentially recycled from the first film.
Verdict: 3 stars