“Happy Death Day 2U” Review: “Groundhog Day” formula still worth a damn

By Christian DiMartino

The Groundhog Day formula is one of those things that might always be interesting, especially depending on what you do with it. Of course I’m referring to the Harold Ramis classic in which Bill Murray’s Phil repeatedly lives Groundhog Day over and over again until he gets the day right. Many films since have tried to recreate this concept, and it usually works because of the approach. Edge of Tomorrow, the Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt vehicle, is perhaps my favorite recreation.

Happy Death Day was a fun spin on the concept as well. I wasn’t gaga for it, seeing as the first portion left me cold, and I knew who the killer was as soon as said killer entered the screen. Yet the movie entertained, and when I heard talk of Happy Death Day 2U, I was of course curious. Curious, yet a bit concerned. Because they’d already told their story. What else was there to tell?

Oh, and that is just why Happy Death Day 2U is so much fun. Here is that rare sequel that takes what worked the first time, spins it, turns it around and shapes it into something new. Just when I thought I was going to get a retread of Happy Death Day (I went in fairly blind), what I got was a rare sequel that somehow justifies its existence, with wonderful invention and obvious (but admitted) absurdity. It’s a fun film that is in on the fun, and knows how much fun it is.

This is one of those films in which I advise you see the original. You can go into it blind, yet you won’t have the same fondness for the characters. I don’t have a terrific memory of the original, but it stuck with me enough. What ultimately sold me about the original was the lead performance from Jessica Roathe, and here she sells me even further. Roathe is a natural. Think about what Murray was able to convey in Groundhog Day. That dread, that frustration, that confusion. Having not seen Roathe outside of this series, I can say that she is such a winner in this role that I hope to see more of her, and while she worked wonders the first time, she’s even better here.

The plot… well, again, I say it’s best you go in blind. I could try diving into it, yet it’s more interesting to see for yourself. A lot of these kinds of movies don’t bother explaining the magic of the plot, kind of like how you didn’t expect the original to. Yet this one does.

The original revolved around a college student named Tree (Roathe) who, on her birthday, is murdered. Yet she kept getting the chance to relive that day over and over again until she figured out who the killer was. Tree begins an unlikable character. In fact, we can understand why she was killed. Yet Roathe managed to make her rootable and charming by the end. This time, for reasons I won’t dive into, Tree is forced to relive that same day again, except this time it’s in an alternate universe (sound ridiculous? You bet. But it at least owns up to its ridiculousness).

The film has a lot of fun with its original concept. Happy Death Day 2U is a horror/sci-fi/comedy thing, and it’s a blast at whatever genre it tackles. This could have easily been a sequel like The Hangover Part II, in which it follows the same formula that worked the first time. Perhaps this one does, yet I think it has enough invention and ideas to go around to more than justify its existence.

We follow Roathe on her wonderfully morbid journey until the climax, which I think is also a little on the predictable and in some cases lazy side. Yet what leads up to it is a good old time. Happy Death Day 2U is smart and genuinely funny. It also, believe it or not, has a rather big heart. I’m not sure if anyone could have expected anything from a movie called Happy Death Day 2U, but now that we’ve gotten the ridiculously entertaining Happy Death Day 2U, I can’t say that I’m complaining.  A third film might be pushing it, but if it’s this much fun, anything goes.

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