When it comes to a movie dealing with a multiverse or a parallel universe or an alternate universe or whatever the kids are calling it these days, Happy Death Day 2U (** out of four stars) unfortunately skewers closer to the lameness of The Cloverfield Paradox than the giddiness of Spider-Man: Into the Multi-Verse. It should also be noted that it frequently bolts away from the original Happy Death Day. In other words, this is one time when (with apologies to Herman’s Hermits and that jolly Henry VIII) the second verse — multi or otherwise — is not the same as the first.
Released in 2017, Happy Death Day added a Groundhog Day wrinkle to the traditional slasher flick and took that notion about as far as it could go. The result was a fairly clever and fairly entertaining murder-mystery — and a standalone film that absolutely did not require a sequel. But when your movie costs $5 million and grosses $55 million stateside and another $70 million worldwide … well, I think even the U.S. Constitution states that a follow-up must be made.
Happy Death Day 2U is only partly a repeat of the first film. The rest of the time, it feels more of a piece with Back to the Future Part II (actually referenced in this new movie), Real Genius, Weird Science, My Science Project, and other teen-centric sci-fi flicks from the hallowed 1980s. But the results are more grasping than ingenious, never disguising the fact that this new slant muddles rather than enhances the appeal of the initial premise.
Jessica Rothe returns as Tree, this time learning that her never-ending loop of a day — one in which she died over and over again, only breaking the cycle once she identified the killer — was the result of a science project conceived by Ryan (Phi Vu), the roommate of her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard). More mishaps result in an attempt to get the science project under control; instead, the inadvertent result is that Tree has to again relive that same nightmarish day over and over again — only this time in an alternate universe, and with a different murderer wielding the knife.
It plays out as desperately as it sounds, and it strips the original film of the raw power of its premise (Tree even states as much in this new movie). Worse, the murder-mystery angle is now completely obliterated in favor of the rote sci-fi shenanigans as well as a barren side drama involving Tree’s mother (Missy Yager). Whereas the original offered up a number of suspects, this entry basically has one — and, yeah, that’s who it turns out to be.
On the plus side, Rothe is again terrific as Tree, and here’s hoping she starts landing more prominent movie roles (so far, she’s mainly been guesting on TV series and popping up in obscure indies). On the negative side, Happy Death Day 2U ends with a setup for yet another installment, one that will doubtless head off in an even more nonsensical direction. If Happy Death Day turned to the ‘90s (Groundhog Day) and Happy Death Day 2U borrowed from the ‘80s (Back to the Future Part II), then will Happy Death Day 3Peat lift from the ‘70s? And will Travis Bickle or Sheriff Buford T. Justice be making an appearance?