Bill & Ted Face the Music
2020, PG-13, 88 min. Directed by Dean Parisot. Starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Holland Taylor.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Aug. 28, 2020
Remember when irony wasn't the prevailing mainstream mindset? The last time we saw that kind of Norman Rockwell earnestness was when SoCal rock dudes Ted ‘'Theodore’’ Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esq. stumbled into our lives in 1989's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Now here's the deal. Rockwell wasn't blind to the ills of the world, but he tried not to let them infect his inherent optimism. Same goes for Bill and Ted. As memorably played by Winter and Reeves, they faced high school classes with the same befuddled cheer as they did evil robot clones, time travel, and saving the universe.
For their third shambling trip through the cosmos, Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey scribes Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon reunite, much as do our hollow-headed heroes, after an extraordinarily long delay. It was two years between the first two films, and more than ten times that before their third and definitively final adventure. Sadly, that means writing around the loss of George Carlin as Rufus, but in his stead comes his daughter, Kelly (Schaal), who arrives in a brand-new time machine with an important message: their band Wyld Stallyns only has until 7:17pm San Dimas time to save reality through that perfect song they were supposed to have written some time in the last 30 years. Slight hitch there: Bill and Ted are pretty much back where they were at the start of their first adventure. They're two dudes with dreams of making the big time – which they did, briefly – and now they're just trying to do the one good thing they're supposed to do. Maybe they have to cheat and use a time machine to do it (which, as we know, doesn't always run so smooth for them), but it's all in a good cause.
This may be the most jam-packed of the dumb duo's adventures – which, considering how much was going on in Bogus Journey, is quite the achievement. That works for and against it: On the positive side, it opens up a whole side-adventure for Weaving and Lundy-Paine as Billie and Thea, Bill and Ted's daughters who take right after their dads, down to a time-hopping search for the ultimate backing band. Meanwhile, Anthony Carrigan manages to create as memorable a character as Barry's NoHo Hank and Gotham's Victor Zsasz as an assassin droid sent dispatched from the future by the Great Leader (Holland, playing Rufus' widow and Kelly's mom) to kill Bill and Ted. As wonderfully unexpected new characters go, he may be the first to match William Sadler's gooberish Death - mercifully back again, but now aggrieved at Bill and Ted due to both cosmic forces and musical differences.
At the same time, Face the Music heads off on odd tangents, with digressions that don't always seem to lead much of anywhere. Princesses-turned-rock-wives Joanna (Mays) and Elizabeth (Hayes) finally get their own adventure, but it all happens off-screen. That would be more frustrating if it wasn't for the fact that, at a breezy 88 minutes run time, it's OK to have a few loose ends.
Most importantly, Bill & Ted Face The Music avoids the obvious pitfall of writing the dudes out of their own story. They're still the center, older but no wiser, sweet as can be, and armored from the world by with a profound moral compass and a vocabulary that still belies their undeniable cluelessness. If they were smarter, they'd be easy to hate, and the future Bills and Teds they encounter are the clear villains of the endeavor (they are, indeed, dicks). Yet Reeves and Winter pull their jeans and tees and affable nitwitted natures on so smoothly that it feels like they never left. Reeves, in an undoubted nod to his career as the dark and brooding action hero, brings a little bit more of the melancholia that was always in Ted, while Winter (now arguably better known in film circles as a documentarian than an actor) keeps Bill as the well-meaning instigator of their woes. They're older, yes, but they're still Bill and Ted, and that means so much right now.
Beyond everything, and why those odd plotting lapses don't really affect much, is that these films are just so damned sweet. When the moral arrives (and these are unabashedly morality tales), it's a bright spot in a year that has felt so oppressive, and one that would not have blossomed so perfectly if the team had succeeded in getting the film made any time in the last decade. The whole point is that there is one moment at which the reality needs Bill and Ted. With a story built around the need to bring everyone, all the oddballs and weirdos and lost friends and new friends together with peace, understanding, and a lack of judgement, maybe now is the time we really, truly need Bill & Ted.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is available now in cinemas and on VOD.