BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC (2020)
Once told they'd save the universe during a time-traveling adventure, two would-be rockers find themselves as middle-aged dads still trying to crank out a hit song and fulfil their destiny.
Was anyone crying out for a third Bill & Ted movie? Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) was a quirky time-travel comedy that became a cult favourite, and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) was a more elaborate and imaginative sequel that didn’t rest on its laurels. It even ended the story perfectly, with wannabe-rockers Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (Keanu Reeves) performing a song that sealed their destiny as heralds of a utopian society. But now, 29 years later, Bill and Ted are back to face the music.
There’s a lot of nostalgia and residual affection baked into the mere existence of Bill & Ted Face the Music (which annoyingly breaks with the saga’s title formula), at least for middle-aged folk who grew up watching these lovable Californian goofballs. I can’t speak to how much Bill & Ted has permeated popular culture since the early-1990s (outside of the US anyway), but it seems reasonable to assume Face the Music is aimed at the grown-ups looking for an escape to their youth. That it might inspire millennials to seek out the older films justifies its unexpected existence.
In an acceptable ret-con to Bogus Journey, it seems Bill and Ted’s musical performance as Wyld Stallyns didn’t usher in universal peace. But they did achieve worldwide fame and had some success before a string of flop albums cut the party short. Now washed-up rockstars in their fifties, Bill and Ted are desperately trying to reclaim their halcyon days and, more importantly, write the song that’ll save mankind—somehow! But while their showbiz careers stalled, they can at least take heart with being good fathers to Wilhelmina ‘Billie’ Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paige) and Theodora ‘Thea’ Preston (Samara Weaving), two equally innocent teenagers that idolise their ‘dads’.
A final chance to achieve their destiny arrives in the form of time-traveller Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of the late George Carlin’s Rufus from the other films, who whisks them to the future to meet with The Great Leader (Holland Taylor). Bill and Ted are given just 78-minutes to compose their masterpiece before time and reality itself are torn apart. As always with Bill & Ted films, don’t think too deeply about the time-travel logic, as Face the Music would give Stephen Hawking an aneurism. I must confess the nerd part of my mind was in spasm trying to keep this narrative in shape. In the end, I gave up. Reality will be destroyed if a song that heralds a utopia doesn’t get performed, according to people who wouldn’t exist to give this warning if the song didn’t get written!
Bill & Ted Face the Music is essentially a mix-tape of what’s come before, which is disappointing considering Bogus Journey was so memorable because it took things in a different direction from Excellent Adventure. Bill and Ted first travelled through time, then crossed metaphysical planes, so shouldn’t they be heading into outer space to meet aliens for this sequel? Instead, Bill and Ted steal a time-machine in order to plagiarise their own song from their future selves, who don’t have it and grow increasingly bitter about how the failures of their past selves lead to them becoming muscular convicts estranged from their princess wives (Jayma Mays, Erinn Hayes).
Simultaneously, dopey daughters ‘B’ and ‘T’ reenact a version of Excellent Adventure, zipping back into history to assemble an all-star band of musicians for their dads to rock out with and save the world. And a version of Bogus Journey plays out when various characters are killed and find themselves dumped in Hell, where a miserable Death (William Sadler) is now residing after a falling out with his former bandmates.
There are certainly successful elements woven into Bill & Ted Face the Music. Anyone worried that translating such youthful and naive characters into adulthood while avoiding too much middle-age cynicism can rest easy. It mostly works. The essence of who Bill and Ted are is maintained because they’re still best friends who stay optimistic, despite knowing their lives have slipped into the doldrums and even their marriages are on shaky ground. It certainly helps that Winter and Reeves have remained friends in real life, too, as their chemistry is alive and well. Winter does particularly good work slipping into Bill’s shoes and playing other versions of his dimwit character.
Reeves seems less comfortable as guileless Ted again, perhaps because he’s spent decades avoiding this type of zany role and it’s harder for audiences to rewind the last 30 years. What anyone born this century makes of seeing John Wick playing dumb is anyone’s guess! But the double-act still works well enough, even if it’s perhaps revealing that Bill and Ted’s kids are involved in half the plot and are given more fun things to do. It also works that Brigette Lundy-Paige is astonishingly good at mimicking Keanu’s younger floppy-armed persona, although I think Samara Weaving (Ready or Not) is a little miscast as Bill’s offspring.
Unfortunately, with a muddled storyline riffing on stuff we’ve seen done before, Face the Music can’t help but feel like a well-meaning but mediocre comeback gig. But if you loved Bill and Ted back in the day, you likely won’t regret seeing them again with added wrinkles. Face the Music has clearly been made with love by the same writers (Ed Solomon, Chris Matheson), and a major Hollywood star like Keanu Reeves certainly didn’t need to go back to this well unless he saw value in a reunion.
Face the Music builds to a decent enough climax that comments on parenthood in a touching way (even if Bill and Ted’s own legacy is a little undone), although it ends abruptly with no denouement to tie things up more emotionally. The sloppy story has its rough patches (the script strains to give Bill and Ted’s wives something to do that doesn’t make much sense), I smiled more than I laughed, they shouldn’t have shaved off Keanu’s beard, and it didn’t really need to be made… but neither does it trash a durable franchise. It’s unpretentious hokum that’ll appeal to existing fans.
It’s not bogus, dude… but neither is it excellent.
USA • CANADA • ITALY| 2020 | 91 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
director: Dean Parisot.
writers: Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon.
starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Bridgette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Hal Landon Jr., Beck Bennett, Kidi Cudi, Amy Stoch & Holland Taylor.