You certainly can’t accuse “Happy Death Day 2U” of wasting its time. No sooner have viewers been dropped back into the world of the surprise 2017 slasher hit than the story picks up with a new day, a new time loop and a new killer in a baby mask. Lest this all start to sound a little too familiar, “Happy Death Day 2U” pulls off one twist by signaling early on that this is no longer a horror movie. Oh, there’s still a knife-wielding psychopath on the loose, but that’s more a pesky annoyance this time around. Instead, with a story centering on the multiverse and time travel and a host of other pseudo-science mumbo jumbo, it embraces the silliness at the core of its premise and plays as an out-and-out sci-fi comedy.
I can respect the daringness it would take to genre-hop like that — it’s the sort of move that a lot of series wouldn’t even think of making — even if the movie itself never lives up to that initial shock to the system. Instead it ties itself in knots, layering one sci-fi trope on top of another and drowning an underdeveloped A-plot in a wash of underdeveloped B-plots. The idea at its core isn’t so much “less is more” as it is “no, more is more, stupid,” so it jettisons the simple efficiency of the original film in favor of a surprisingly confusing story that all too rarely gives you something to hold on to in the midst of all the madness. Instead, true to the fast-paced opening scenes, it never stops moving, never stops hitting you over the head with nonsense, because to stop would be to admit there’s no substance and lose your attention.
This reaches an infuriating extreme in the third act, which features enough genre-bending for an entire franchise, let alone a single film. By this point, every character arc has either been finished or dropped entirely, so as “Happy Death Day 2U” moves from the sci-fi insanity of the rest of the film to a heist sequence to the twisty finale of the slasher subplot with all the grace of a dying animal, it plays more as padding than anything else. It’s hard to care about any of this to begin with — especially the slasher stuff that the script seems to forget more often than not — but without any character growth to ground itself in, it feels especially extraneous.
The one undeniably bright spot is Jessica Rothe (“Forever My Girl”) returning as Tree. What few laughs are to be had mostly come from her righteous fury at having to relive Monday the 18th again after already having done so 11 times, as well as the general hard-edged charm she exudes in every single scene and the few dramatic moments that work do so for the same reason. Rothe’s work is always grounded in something human while the rest of the film all too rarely is. Even in the movie’s worst moments (the aforementioned endless third act) it’s easy to return to her performance and find something enjoyable. If there were ever any doubt that the superstar in the making is the glue holding this nascent franchise together — and if you saw the original, for all its merits, there shouldn’t be — then if nothing else, “Happy Death Day 2U” should serve as its cure.