NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING [R] B+
A more fitting subtitle for this sequel might have been “Teddy Rising,” because the real stalwart here is frat boy next door Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), despite the fact that Teddy’s not exactly a neighbor (good or otherwise) to Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne). He’s off on his own, thanks to the upcoming same-sex nuptials of his best bud Pete (Dave Franco), and he can’t quite subsist on his chiseled good lucks like he used to. Teddy initially teams up with Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), who starts a sorority dedicated to proving that girls can be just as depraved as the boys, but it’s not long before he switches sides, joining Mac and Kelly’s efforts to oust the new sisterhood, so that they can safely sell their house. Co-writer and director Nicholas Stoller packs in a classic combination of raunchy humor and liberal social commentary to make this sequel a noticeable step up from the original, although it must be said that Efron’s knowing comic skewering of his charisma fuels the top-flight rise.
THE NICE GUYS [R] A-
As a fan of the offbeat shaggy dog charms of “Inherent Vice,” with its loose and meandering take on druggy period detective stories, I went into Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys” with even higher expectations. Black made his name as the writer behind the “Lethal Weapon” series, which firmly established his bona fides as the go-to guy for action-oriented buddy comedies. Smart knowing jokes would pop off as often as the gunshots and the explosions in Shane Black’s world. This time, he gets screenplay assistance from Anthony Bagarozzi, but he displays a firm hand at the helm (following up after his “Iron Man 3” installment) and he’s got a pair of mismatched private eyes (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe) with Abbott and Costello-type chemistry to spare. The story starts as a simple missing person gig and quickly spins off into porn, environmental issues and auto industry conspiracies, but none of that matters. Just settle in for the beautifully madcap elements taking place in the background of these chaotic frames, while trying to keep up with the perfectly suited leads. It has the potential to make “nice” actually mean something once again.