Bill & Ted Face the Music

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/27/20 20:00:00

"Just Excellent Enough"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Released in 1989, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” told the story of a couple of amiably clueless high school metalheads—Bill S. Prreston ESQ (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves)—who travelled through time in order to meet some of the great figures in history in order to help them pass an exam that would allow them to keep their band, Wyld Stallyns, together and eventually help bring about a new utopian existence based around their music. Needless to say, the movie was nonsense from start to finish but thanks to a smarter sense of humor than one might have ordinarily expected from such a premise and the very likable and entertaining performances from Winter and Reeves as the porto-grunge version of Abbott & Costello, it made for 90 minutes of cheerful silliness. A couple of years later, “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” arrived but instead of merely rehashing the time travel jokes from the first film, it went off in wild new directions—at one point becoming an inspired parody of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” as the two encounter the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) and challenge him to games like Battleship and Twister instead of chess—and wound up as a much funnier film than the first one.

Now, after nearly three decades and numerous rumors and false starts, the conclusion to the haphazard trilogy, the long-awaited “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” has finally arrived. As it turns out, while Bill & Ted are off facing the music, the film as a whole is facing a couple of fearsome challenges of its own. For one, it is trying to revive a franchise that last turned up in theaters during the George Bush era in a way that could appeal to fans of the original and a new audience that may have been in diapers when Bush’s son was president. Perhaps more significantly, sequels to comedies have rarely worked because they tend to be nothing more than variations on the old jokes combined with ones that presumably didn’t make the cut—in this case, it is the sequel to two successful comedies, making that job exponentially more difficult. While the end result is hardly a masterpiece—those going into it with wildly inflated expectations should temper them immediately—it still proves to be another amusing variation on a fairly standard theme that offers up a lot of smiles, a couple of big laugh and even a few of those feels that are all the rage with the kids today.

Bill and Ted are now middle-aged dudes living next door to each other in suburban San Dimas with their respective princess wives Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and now-adult daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and are still trying to compose the song that will one day unite the world. As the film begins, they are premiering their latest attempt at a wedding reception but it does not go well. (Then again, considering the particulars of this wedding, the only truly appropriate tune would be “I’m My Own Grandpa.”) This latest rejection, combined with an extremely awkward attempt at couples therapy (with Jillian Bell as the increasingly flustered therapist), leaves them dejected and wondering if they should give it all up when they are visited by Kelly (Kristen Schall), the daughter of their original time-travel guide Rufus (the late George Carlin), who whisks them off to the future where the Great Leader (Holland Taylor) informs them that if their song isn’t composed and performed for the world in 77 minutes, the entire universe will collapse upon itself. The two hit upon the idea of using the time machine to go a few years in the future and take the song from their future selves and save the day. Needless to say, this doesn’t quite work out as planned and becomes more complicated when the Great Leader decides to endorse an alternate reading of her prophecy and sends a robot assassin to kill them in the hope that their deaths will bring the needed balance.

Meanwhile, Thea and Billie, who are clearly their fathers’ children in every imaginable way, encounter Kelly and get a general explanation of what is going on. Eager to help, they decide to put both the time machine and their encyclopedic knowledge of all forms of music to good use by hurtling themselves through time in order to recruit some of the most notable musicians in history to form a band to back their dads up when they return with the song. Their adventures are more successful than their fathers and by the time they all get back together, it appears that the end of the universe is nigh. That is, until they deploy a force even more powerful—a tearful showbiz-style reunion with a former associate who split with Bill & Ted under acrimonious circumstances.

Like the previous films, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” was written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon and indeed, there are times when it feels as if they are rehashing their key plot points—the stuff with Bill and Ted encountering weird alternative versions of themselves is right out of “Bogus Journey” while the material involving the daughters is more or less taken from the original film. As a result, there are times when the emphasis of “Face the Music” leans more towards basic fan service than an examination of the mindset of guys still trying to keep their youthful dreams alive even after their own kids have left their teen years. I am not asking for a metalhead version of “Ride the High Country” or anything like that but it could have dug a little deeper than it does here. The ticking clock aspect to the narrative is also not particularly effective and merely comes across as a half-assed way to add tension to a film that is famous for its perennially laid-back attitude.

And yet, even though the film is at times haphazard even by “Bill & Ted” standards, it still kin of works, though I am not entirely sure what younger audiences unfamiliar with the material will make of it. Although the spark of pure nutty invention that drove the earlier films, especially “Bogus Journey” is gone, Matheson and Solomon still come up with enough amusing moments to keep things humming along and keep the dumb stuff (at least the unintentionally dumb stuff) to a minimum. The best stuff in the film is the material involving the daughters, thanks in large part to the inspired performances and byplay from Weaving and Lundy-Paine—Weaving follows up nicely from her hilarious turn in the dark comedy “Ready or Not” and Lundy-Paine’s evocation of her inner Keanu is absolutely immaculate. As for the guys themselves, they have both done plenty of different things in the past 30 years—Winter has become a filmmaker of note while Reeves has essentially become a pop culture deity—but they slip back into doofus mode without ever making it seem forced. The secret to their success is that they realize that their characters are not so much dumb as they are wired differently and that makes them far more likable and amusing than if they were just seen as dim bulbs. The other advantage to this is that when the screenplay does take a couple of swings towards a feel-good message towards the end, they actually manage to make them seem sincere as well as funny.

Like a lot of sequels, especially ones appearing long after the appearance of the original film, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is not particularly essential and if I were to rank it alongside its predecessors, it would inevitably wind up bringing up the rear. And yet, as long as it is taken as it was clearly meant to be—as a late summer goof reuniting us with a couple of beloved cult movie characters who have somehow managed to stand the test of time (no pun intended)—it proves to have been more or less worth the wait.

Two final observations: While I would say that another Bill & Ted movie is extremely unlikely, if anyone proposed dong anything with the characters of their daughters—spin-off movies, Netflix series, off-Broadway musical—and got Weaving and Lundy-Paine to return in their roles, I would watch the hell out of it. Be sure to stay through the end credits for a final bit of excellence.

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