While “Happy Death Day” takes pains to suggest a relationship with “Groundhog Day” it’s more like a bad TV movie that even MTV would reject.
Utilizing the same “I’ll learn something” philosophy that Bill Murray’s comedy plied, it shows what happens when a judgmental college student (Jessica Rothe) discovers she doesn’t die after a masked killer borrows concepts from a half-dozen horror films.
Each time she meets her end, she wakes up – in the bed of a one-night stand (Israel Broussard) whom she readily insists is beneath her sorority standard.
As she lives to die another day she gains more information about her murderer and, with a little luck, can solve the mystery.
Plenty of suspects are lurking – she has a lukewarm attachment to her dad, a hate/hate relationship with her sorority president, a disdain for her roommate and a questionable kinship to her professor. Stray students have potential, too, to be on the list.
Director Christopher Landon looks for laughs more than screams and gets a Sarah Michelle Gellar performance out of Rothe, who seems ready for a sitcom.
She does the walk of shame repeatedly, grows to like Broussard and manages to die in the most unusual ways.
Naturally, lights are off in most rooms, hallways are long and all kinds of weapons (including shards of glass) are waiting to do our heroine in.
While “Happy Death Day” doesn’t seem long, it is more repetitive than it needs to be.
Broussard is underused, too. He’s a likable kid who could be the next big-screen boyfriend if producers saw how good he was at letting the female star take the spotlight.
Obviously aimed at an early teen crowd (it’s only PG-13), “Happy Death Day” doesn’t stray from stereotypes. It even turns a dark hospital into the horror equivalent of an Old West town, where a showdown is inevitable.
In no time at all, Rothe becomes an expert marksman, a hatchet wielder and a master with a shard of glass. She’s Jamie Lee Curtis and every other horror heroine trying to escape the wrath of a killer.
A red herring is here, too, suggesting every death has a serial killer in tow.
While Landon tries hard to teach a big lesson, he doesn’t veer far from ones we’ve learned from “Legally Blonde” or any other stereotypical sorority film.
Rothe is a game actress but she’ll never give Jennifer Lawrence a run for her “Hunger Games” money.
“Happy Death Day” is clearly made for the hit-and-run market. Unlike Landon’s “Paranormal Activity” series this can get old rather quickly.