“Who’s Bill Murray?”
It’s easily the most honest line in Happy Death Day — admitting that it bogarts Groundhog Day, asserting its heroine could really stand to watch more movies and acknowledging most of its audience, born a decade after Murray’s classic, will greet the line with a shrug at best.
As a snotty sorority girl is slain on her birthday, only to respawn over and over with knowledge of what happens to her until she can best her killer, Happy Death Day eliminates the philosophical perspectives, clever jokes, madcap energy and general entertainment value of Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow (which, honestly, it more closely resembles).
It was a lot more fun watching Tom Cruise live, die and repeat than Jessica Rothe — perhaps not the best person to cast non-ironically to play a woman named Tree.
There’s a veritable perp walk of potential murderers in the prologue — nearly one for every hour of the day Tree lives over and over again on the campus of Bayfield University. The beau she brushed off after a bad date. The professor with whom she’s having an affair. The professor’s suspicious wife. The sorority sister with whose boyfriend Tree has been making time. Maybe even the global warming advocate, tired of being brushed off all the time.
By the umpteenth time you hear Tree’s birthday ringtone, even you may feel a homicidal urge.
There is any number of suspects because Tree is all manner of terrible — a fat-shaming, home-wrecking, heart-breaking mope who spits on Uber drivers and gets clothing-store clerks fired.
We expect she will become a better person in the process. Eh. Not really.
Tree eventually shovels down fries in solidarity with the “fat” girl in her sorority. She realizes ruining marriages isn’t a good idea. She discovers why Bad Date Man is so clingy and helps him. She signs the petition to stop global warming. But there’s no evidence that Tree’s harrowing experience makes her see the world differently — unless you count her romantic consideration of Carter (Israel Broussard), a nerdy film buff and her only reliable ally.
Instead, director Christopher B. Landon and writer Scott Lobdell unimaginatively conspire and contrive ways to run Tree afoul of her continual killer, wearing the mask of Bayfield’s athletic mascot — a baby. Yes, a baby. The mighty Bayfield Babies. For starters, Bayfield’s athletic director is just not getting it done. Second, Tree is the only person in whom the Bayfield Baby strikes fear — resembling Baby Herman with a meth problem and a botched cheek-plumping.
Of the many ways Tree dies, a razor isn’t one of them. But Lobdell’s script — almost as old as the teens it’s targeting and initially meant for Megan Fox — does Occam proud. Certainly, the simplest answer you can come up with for who’s killing Tree is the correct one. It’s also the way Landon directs, outside of one mildly amusing montage in which Tree goes amateur sleuthing.
Pay little attention to the rules or ribald humor Lobdell lays down, namely Tree’s progressive bodily weakness with each resurrection. That doesn’t stop her from pulling off particularly gymnastic hilarity in a climactic scene. And it’s impossible to laugh at a scene in which a bro walks in on what, for all he knows, is an attempted rape of Tree and throws his fist skyward.
Tree and the young girls plunking down babysitting cash to watch Happy Death Day may not know about Bill Murray or Groundhog Day. This movie sure won’t make you forget them.