This 'Groundhog Day' inspired franchise is a goofy, well-intentioned mess.
It helps if horror comedies don’t completely skip the whole “horror” part of the equation.
“Happy Death Day 2U” does just that, giving us the least inspired serial killer in modern screen history.
Sure, the chuckles are present and accounted for in this strained sequel. Take away the thrills, as well as any emotional stakes, and this franchise extension is pure frustration.
Jessica Rothe’s Tree is back, and she isn’t reliving one horrible day again … yet. That honor goes to Phil Vu, playing a fellow student working on a powerful new contraption. He’s the first one to experience the franchise’s “Groundhog Day” shtick, but soon enough poor Tree gets roped back into the fray.
How? Well, you’ll have to sit through endless exposition to learn more. It’s goofy fun at first, as the engaging cast run through all the mumbo jumbo. Suffice to say there’s a plan to rip Tree out of her death day roots once and for all.
It won’t be easy. It also won’t be much fun to endure.
The killer here, wearing a grotesque baby mask, is a non-entity. He (or she) isn’t scary, menacing or anything else a self-respecting monster should be. The figure pops up randomly, and despite a variety of unimaginative “kills” rarely gets our attention.
That’s a problem.
— Happy Death Day 2U (@UniversalHorror) February 10, 2019
So, too, is the script, which overdoes on “clever” long before the third act. The tone here is “Scream” esque, with tongue dug deeply into cheek. That’s acceptable if the other elements pop. Sadly, they don’t, and please don’t blame Rothe for this predicament.
She’s great, full of pluck and charisma, and without her “Death Day 2U” would be a certified dud.
Still, her attempts to make us care about her character’s mother-daughter bond, not to mention that spark-free romance with Carter (Israel Broussard) stalls the film over and again.
Why, it’s almost like it’s in a doomed time loop.
Bear McCreary’s score works overtime to gin up our interest, and the effort shows. The cast members restrain themselves from matching its hyperactive beat, thank goodness, until a stupefying segment involving a fake blind student.
That’s ripped out of a very bad ’80s comedy. You’ll wince until it finally ends.
FAST FACT: The original “Happy Death Day,” with a modest $4.8 million budget, earned a whopping $26 million at the U.S. box office during its opening weekend in 2017. The shocker went on to generate $55 million in total.
The diverse cast is appealing, but no one emerges as having a distinct personality. Worse, they’re all pawns to the story’s machinations, so any consistency is thrown out the window. We don’t turn to PG:13 horror movies for epic character development. A smattering of it never hurts.
Teen viewers, the obvious audience, will be more forgiving of the slight emotional stakes in “Happy Death Day 2U.” They’ll still pine for more scares, more story momentum.
The ending offers another unofficial homage to the “Scream” franchise, and that’s not a compliment. Call it the screenwriters throwing up their hands and whispering, “well, we gotta pick a bad guy … anyone have any suggestions?”
At one point Tree takes a beat and barks, “I am so done with this sh**.” Given the first film’s box office success, and producer Jason Blum’s track record with indie horror films, she couldn’t be more wrong.
HiT or Miss: “Happy Death Day 2U” delivers PG:13 horror for the teen set … and little else.