Comedy dares not exploit women's bad behaviour

Zac Efron plays an ex-frat boy living in a sorority with Chloe Grace Moretz (right).
Zac Efron plays an ex-frat boy living in a sorority with Chloe Grace Moretz (right).PHOTO: UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

REVIEW / COMEDY

BAD NEIGHBORS 2 (R21)

93 minutes/Now showing/ 2 stars

The story: Parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are once again appalled to find that the house next door will be home to rowdy college kids - this time they are young women of the breakaway Kappa Nu sorority, a group which aims to show that women can be just as raucous as men at college parties.

This movie feels like it began life with the best of intentions.

It wants to be an adult comedy about man-children thrown in with a group of young women. It sounds like a set-up ripe for nudge-nudge- wink-wink humour, but this movie takes the high road: It refuses to portray women as fetish objects, bimbos, nagging wives or emasculating harpies.

There are no homophobic  jokes, no jokes about women's body sizes, no plain-Jane jokes.

It has a clear idea what does not belong. But it has no idea what does.

For example, the event that drives student Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) to set up a sorority of her own is that women's houses are, according to the rules, barred from throwing parties, while men's houses can do so. Confusingly, the story attempts to bolster her case by arguing that college parties can be dangerous for women. But are sorority parties any safer, if just as many beered-up men are present?

This work strains to be a raunchy oestrogen-driven comedy in the style of a comic like Amy Schumer (Trainwreck, 2015). But as it is directed by a man (Nicholas Stoller, who also directed the funny 2014 hit that spawned this sequel), working from a screenplay written by five men, it refuses to give itself permission to exploit the women's bad behaviour for laughs.

So the jokes buzz around the periphery, when the thing that should be mocked is right in front of them.

Nothing is said about how sorority houses might not be safer for women, after all. Instead, there is a running gag about Mac and Kelly's baby daughter playing with Kelly's sex toy.

There are no laughs from how ex- frat boy Teddy (Zac Efron) is living in the same house as the women, who have hired him as a party consultant, in spite of how he's viewed as a sex object by every woman there. Instead, moviegoers get jibes at Jews, Rogen's ample proportions and the greed of real estate agents.   

This is Rogen and company trying to grow up. Their hearts are in the right place, but right now, they are committing an even worse sin: Hiring women such as Byrne and Moretz - and giving them nothing to do.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2016, with the headline 'Comedy dares not exploit women's bad behaviour'. Print Edition | Subscribe