‘Happy Death Day 2U’: The first succeeded, so Tree dies and dies again

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The killer in the baby mask again menaces Tree (Jessica Rothe) in “Happy Death Day 2U.” | Universal Pictures

Little wonder college student Teresa “Tree” Gelbman is so exhausted.

Not only does she keep on dying, she’s in a sequel to a movie in which she kept on dying.

Maybe she can join Phil Connors from “Groundhog Day” and Nadia Vulvokov from the Netflix series “Russian Doll” in a support group, because they’ve been there, died that.

And while we’re at it, let’s invite the kids from “Weird Science,” Marty McFly and Doc Brown from “Back to the Future” and the cast of the “Scream” movies, because Tree is spending a lot of time in their territory as well.

Writer-director Christopher Landon’s “Happy Death Day 2U,” the follow-up to Landon’s 2017 slasher satire “Happy Death Day,” is a cheerfully twisted horror/comedy/sci-fi mash-up with a surprisingly sweet heart lurking beneath all the bloody-rinse-and-repeat hijinks, which aren’t all that bloody anyway.

This is a wink-at-the-camera adventure in which the filmmakers have fun with such tried and true (and in some cases tired and true) horror movie staples such as the inexplicably dark and nearly deserted hospital corridor; the college campus where it seems as if there’s only one administrator and one professor and about a hundred students; the friend that sneaks up and scares a buddy just before the masked killer surfaces, knife at the ready, and the heroine in peril who becomes the heroine who takes charge.

Jessica Rothe, gamely stomping about and going big and broad with her comedy when the screenplay calls for it, is back as Teresa aka Tree (one of the more ridiculous nicknames in recent movie history, but Tree has to grow, get it?), who “died” some 11 times in the original before she was able to break the chain and return to a normal life.

That is, until a trio of stereotypically geeky science savants named Ryan (Phi Vu), Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) create a machine that opens a portal into a parallel universe, in which poor Tree finds herself dying again and again — not to mention dealing with a world in which her super nice boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) is now dating her vapid sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews).

Also, that annoying killer wearing the creepy baby mask is on the loose again. Come on, multi-verse! Give a girl a break.

It’s almost impossible NOT to call the “Happy Death Day” movies “Scream” meets “Groundhog Day” because that’s what they are. Tree literally throws herself into a number of creatively gruesome ways to die, just as Bill Murray’s Phil did in “Groundhog Day,” and the characters have a self-awareness of their predicament a la the kids in “Scream.” (Even as Tree begins to experience symptoms not unlike Marty McFly’s in “Back to the Future,” two guys chastise her for never having seen that classic: “Doc Brown? The DeLorean?!”)

At times the film experiences an identity crisis and becomes almost spiritual and contemplative, e.g., a subplot involving Tree’s family history. It’s not an unwelcome detour by any means — one scene is genuinely moving — but it’s almost as if the movie has forgotten about the psychopath in that disturbing big-headed baby mask.

Once we return to the bloody matters at hand, and Tree’s increasingly frantic efforts to decide which universe is the universe for her, “Happy Death Day 2U” stumbles a bit with a roadblock that feels like it was wedged in just to stretch the film to feature length. But even with all the zaniness and the red herrings and the scatological humor and the hit-and-miss slapstick gags, we find ourselves rooting for Tree and Carter and those likable geeks, hoping they’ll figure out a way to wind up in the right corner of the multi-verse, so they can all team up for the inevitable sequel to the sequel.

Set it during the holidays, call it “Merry Death Day” and we’ll be good to go.

‘Happy Death Day 2U’


Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by Christopher Landon. Rated PG-13 (for violence, language, sexual material and thematic elements). Running time: 100 minutes. Opens Wednesday at local theaters.

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